Are you looking forward to Spring? Did you know that Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter, means Spring? Wednesday, March 6 was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
What’s Ash Wednesday? If you look in the Bible for Ash Wednesday, you won’t find it. It was developed later as part of a faith formational process for new Christians who wanted to be baptized.
All through Bible history, 40 has been an important number. Jesus was tempted for 40 days in the wilderness. The people of God wandered for 40 years in the desert. The Ark was adrift 40 days and 40 nights. The number 40 seems to be, in Biblical terms, the amount of time in which God works in us to bring us into a new beginning.
Shortly after 313 AD when the church put together a faith formational process for people wanting to be baptized, they realized the best time to celebrate a new beginning is Jesus’ Resurrection day: Easter. So, a 40-day season (excluding Sundays) was set aside leading up to Easter, and Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of that 40-day season of intentional spiritual deepening, called Lent (which means ‘spring’).
Faith starts with confessing one’s need for the Lord. The first day of that faith formational season became ‘Ash’ Wednesday because from ancient times, people would put ashes on their heads to express humility. This practice says to God, “I know who I am. Without you, I’m just molecules waiting to return to the dust.” But as an expression of faith and hope, the ashes are placed on the head in the shape of a cross. It was through the cross that Jesus died for the sins of the world. That ash cross is the mark of hope that because of Jesus, this person’s future won’t end in ashes, but in resurrection. The 40 days of Lent are set aside to remember why Jesus took that journey to the cross, so on Resurrection Day, when celebrating Jesus’ victory, we remember his victory is ours as well. Although this started long ago as a way to train in ‘newbie’ Christians, so many were impacted by its purpose, which it still remains a yearly spiritual discipline in many churches today.
(Adapted from Pastor Way, Community of Grace Church)