Yesterday (Ash Wednesday) marked the beginning of Lent – a period of 46 days before Easter Day (4o were traditionally fasting days – the Sundays not being such days as the resurrection would be celebrated).
Ash Wednesday as practised by many Christians, includes the wearing of ashes on the head. The ashes are often made from “blessed” palm branches, taken from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.
Ashes can be seen to symbolize the dust from which God made us. As the priest/church minister applies the ashes to a person’s forehead, he/she speaks words such as: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Alternatively, the priest/minister may speak the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” in connection with seeing ashes as a sign of penitence for the wrongs we have done.
So how do you respond to all the above? You might say that kind of thing is not for me! Fasting is already a challenge! Having ashes on my head too?
I think there is much to learn from other Christian traditions outside of the one(s) we are used to. What can we learn from others that can add richness and other aspects to faith in Christ?
Let me urge us all to pause… Is there anything we can do afresh in this run up to Easter? Or will it simply catch up with us on 16th April?
May be during Lent , it could be good to take some time to fast in one way or another? To bring your body under control as an act of surrender to the Lord. Whilst it is true that for some people it is not good medically to fast much it at all from eating, for most people this is not the case. Plus there are all kinds of ways to fast. Be open to something that has some element of cost/surrender to it. Though don’t fast out of guilt or trying to be extra-holy!!! Do what you sense in your mind/heart to do.
Perhaps at some stage during Lent, burn a match down and create some ashes. Use this as a symbol to reflect on as you pray. (don’t forget to blow the match out or it might be “ouch!”)
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” –
It is a good thing to remember our mortality. Death is so often in western culture a topic that is not talked about. Why is that do you think?
We have one life this side of eternity before we die and face our Creator. Are we grateful for the gift of life? What are we doing with that gift? Does the Lord receive our best or is He a side matter in our schedules?
“Repent and believe in the Gospel” –
This connects with above and remembering our mortality. It is possible for us to have eternal life due to the work of Christ on the cross. By His grace, as we trust in Him; we can receive forgiveness and be made “new creations” to use a phrase from the New Testament. Sure, those new creations are works in progress but new nevertheless!
The word ‘repent’ is involved. Repentance (turning around) is involved in our coming to Christ. Yet also throughout our lives there is a call for surrender and repentance. Not that we repent to become a Christian all over again. Rather we do so that we might know cleansing, a fresh start and draw closer to the Lord and our fellow human beings afresh.
One last thing I write here in this reflection.
The prophet Isaiah, 100s of years before Christ called on the Jewish people to take part in “true fasting”. He spoke out against their feeling religious because they were fasting and doing various religious observances. Not that these were wrong per se, but their hearts were not right. How do we know? Well one sign is that the poor and oppressed were being forgotten! Listen to these words –
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Isaiah 58:6-8, New International Version
So yes, let’s be open to fasting or other spiritual disciplines that can help us grow in our understanding of the Lord and following Him in being “spiritually fit”! Yet also this Lent, it would be good to prayerfully reflect on these words through Isaiah. Then to see how we might live Isaiah’s call out in the real world around us and touch other people’s lives with God’s love.
More Easter reflections to come in the weeks that follow.