by Harold Vance III
Today marks the official beginning of the season of Lent on the church calendar: Ash Wednesday.
On Ash Wednesday, congregations traditionally incinerate the palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, and use the ashes to smudge a cross on congregants’ foreheads. This smudge on our foreheads is worn as an act of penance, preparing the bearer for the Resurrection of Christ, and the redemption of His people, which we will celebrate on Easter Sunday.
The season of Lent spans the forty days prior to Easter, not including Sundays.
Traditionally, this represents Jesus’ praying and fasting in the wilderness and His withstanding the temptations set before Him by Satan.
There are many differing degrees we might choose to practice the disciplines that Lent offers us. For those of us who can’t or won’t fast literally (letting no food pass our lips) for forty days, we may choose one thing to give up, whether food, habit, attitude, etc. Some will set aside the money they would have normally spent on whatever it is they are giving up and donate it to our church or a charity of some sort or another at the end of the season. I like this idea.
Some of us will not only choose to give something up, but also to take something on. Many will focus on praying more often, or getting into the Scriptures on a more in-depth and regular basis.
Sundays are often celebrated as feast days, where we come together in community and partake in all of the good things that we have set aside. My friends, Gabe and Amanda McGann turned us onto this practice last year, and I love them all the more for it.
However you choose to celebrate the season of Lent, though, do it with the intention of growing ever closer to God.
I’ve recently started reading 24/6 by Matthew Sleeth, and in it he breaks down Psalm 46:10 in a way I find very relevant coming into the season of Lent. He begins with the full verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” He then proceeds to repeat it, subtracting the last word with each repetition as follows:
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know that I.
Be still and know that.
Be still and know.
Be still and.
I don’t know if it’s the same where you live, but I’ve noticed a recurring phenomenon driving around Northern Vermont this year. For the last week or two, signs have popping up at a number of different church facilities: Drive-Thru Ashes, Ashes in the Parking Lot, Ashes to Go, etc.
Albeit I’m sure the intention is good, what actually ends up being promoted through such hurried individualism is exactly the opposite of the Gospel.
Lent is not something to rush through. Lent as a whole, and Ash Wednesday especially, requires a pause.
Without stopping to pause, we only walk away with a dirty forehead.