Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent, a 40-day period of repentance and reflection that many Christians observe before Easter.
This video is a great “highlights reel” that explains Lent in about 2 minutes:
Ash Wednesday is a solemn holy day in the church calendar, but even as the readings remind us of our sinful nature, they include promises of God’s love and grace. The opening prayer from the Ash Wednesday service in the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer puts it this way:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have created and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.
I think being reminded of God’s forgiveness before we confess our sins reinforces God’s unconditional love for us.
One of the readings usually is Psalm 103, which includes these verses:
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and full of great kindness.
He will not always accuse us,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our sins from us.
To me, this Psalm is a reminder that God sees us apart from our shortcomings and wrong-doings. While we tend to define ourselves by our worst traits, God loves our whole selves.
After the Bible readings, the service continues with an invitation to observe a holy Lent, which begins:
Dear People of God . . .
I just love that phrase–maybe because it connotes a sense of belonging to God.
With the imposition of ashes the priest reminds us:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
While this may strike some as a macabre part of the service, I see it as a needed reminder of my place in God’s creation. So often I get caught up in myself and my own abilities–I think I can do anything, that I have to do everything–that I forget to place my faith and trust in God. It also is a good reminder that our days on this earth are numbered and so we should spend them wisely.
Last year I gave up meat for Lent, but this year I am really going to focus on renewing my efforts at daily prayer and daily devotion time. The website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops posts the full text of has daily readings (usually a selection from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a selection from the New Testament, and a selection from a Gospel) and I will either read and study those or listen to the Daily Prayer podcasts based on the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer.
Are you giving up anything or committing to do anything for Lent?
Do you know of any on-line devotional resources I should check out?