First, let me say, I am over my gout attack. The doctor prescribed steroids to reduce the pain and within 48 hours I was almost completely pain-free. Thank you for all of your prayers and concern.
Here we are friends, it’s Ash Wednesday. Hard to believe we are in to the third month of our new year. We are beginning our journey of Lent. Six weeks leading us up to Easter. This six week period is the traditional way we remind ourselves of Jesus’ journey to the cross. There is a tradition of fasting and penance during this time. In looking at the history of Lent, we find it began with the early church six weeks before Easter, which provided only 36 days of fasting. 36 days because the six week period excluded Sundays, which were always construed as mini Easters. In the 7th century, 4 days were added to the Lenten season in order to establish 40 fasting days. Hence why we begin on a Wednesday. The 40 days being significant in that it was to be an imitation of Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness.
In Rome, the practice for Lent was for penitents and grievous sinners to begin their Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday. They were sprinkled with ashes, dressed in sackcloth, and remained apart from the Christian community until Maundy Thursday. On Maundy Thursday they would be reconciled to the community and once again receive the Eucharist or Holy Communion. These practices fell away between the 8th and 10th century. Then the practice became an imposition of ashes upon the faithful’s foreheads. The ashes themselves were obtained by burning the palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations, as is still the case today. I find some real symbolism in this practice, as it reminds us of our praising God on one hand, and our eventual falling away from God on the other. It truly impacts me how hypocritical I truly am. I praise God when things are going my way, and then pull away from God at other times.
I’ve neglected to mention Fat Tuesday, better known as Mardi Gras! Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday. It is also known in some cultures as Shrove Tuesday. It is a feast right before the time of fasting and reflection. One of the purposes of this day is to use up all the valuable meat, fat and sweets prior to the period of fasting. We find there are many traditions that symbolize this day by eating pancakes. How perfect is that? Perfect for using up fats, eggs and sweets.
There you have it, probably more than you wanted to know about the history and meaning of Ash Wednesday. My own belief is a fast is a good way to focus our attention on what God through Jesus Christ has done for us. It is not, however, the only way for us to put our minds on sacrifice. There are those who choose to give up a favorite food, beverage, or even practice in order to be in touch with Jesus’ journey to the cross. Some give up sweets, some give up meat, some give up coffee, some even give up watching tv or movies. The point is to give up something which is important and dear to you. Giving up artichokes when I don’t even like artichokes is hardly a sacrifice.
I have come to believe a better way for me to spend the Lenten season is not in giving something up, but rather in taking something on. I can take on an attitude of blessing. This means I look at every situation and praise God for the blessing in it. Kind of a positive thinking exercise. Or, I take on the opportunity to only speak words of kindness, and put away all words of malice or contempt. Or, I take on a time of service and give my time to a worthy cause. Make an impact in someone else’s life. These actions serve to remind me of the manner of Jesus’ life and witness. Jesus spoke blessing into people’s lives. Jesus’ witness was a giving of himself for others.
I want to encourage us to begin our Lenten journey with devotion and intention. We devote ourselves to drawing closer to God in this time. We intend for our witness to count each day of our journey. You may want to keep a journal of each day, what you have done, and how it has impacted someone and brought you closer to the God who loves all of us. I prefer a jar. I simply write down in short order what I’ve done that day, who I’ve shown love to, and then place it in the jar. Each week, I review those additions to the jar to remind myself of my journey.
We are about to return to in-person worship on March 20th, the building will again be open. If you would like to receive ashes to mark today as the beginning of your Lenten journey, I encourage you to come by the church from noon until 1:30, or come by Lekka at 17606 Preston Rd. from 5:00-6:30. I will be there to pronounce a blessing and impose ashes on your forehead. I will wear a mask and use a disposable implement in order to continue to keep you safe. I look forward to seeing you.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,