Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Today is Ash Wednesday

Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

It is the first day in the Christian season of Lent.

I'm finding that many people think Lent is observed only by the Catholic church. This is not true. Lent began in the apostolic era and was universal in the ancient church. For this reason, Lent is observed by the various Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Anglican denominations, by Roman Catholics, and by Eastern Orthodox Churches. (If you want to know why some churches don't observe Lent, go Google it. There's plenty of information out there.)

Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Originally, Lent was the time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil, the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord early on Easter Sunday. But since these new members were to be received into a living community of Faith, the entire community was called to preparation. Also, this was the time when those who had been separated from the Church would prepare to rejoin the community.

Today, Lent is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Easter. It covers the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter (excluding the Sundays, which are "mini-Easters," when fasting is not appropriate).

Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Penitential prayer, fasting and almsgiving are common Lenten practices, meant to help Christians focus on their spiritual journey with God. Today, many congregations have a dual emphasis -- "giving up" something that contributes to a flabby spiritual life while "taking on" spiritual exercises to strengthen the relationship with God.

Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient practice of placing ashes on worshippers’ heads or foreheads as a sign of humility before God, a symbol of mourning and sorrow at the death that sin brings into the world. The ashes are created by burning the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday celebrations.

Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Ash Wednesday is a somber day of reflection on what needs to change in our lives if we are to be fully Christian.

Lent is a season during which we find ourselves completely humbled before God, confessing our inadequacies. We come before Him in dust and ashes, emptied of our pretenses of being righteous. It is a way to empty ourselves of our false pride, of our rationalizations that prevent us from seeing ourselves as needy creatures, of our "perfectionist" tendencies that blind us to the beam in our own eyes.

It's a time for us to stop praying for others, believing that we are "higher spiritual creatures" than "they." It's time for us to realize that WE are standing in the need of prayer. WE are the sinner for whom Christ came to make sacrifice.

Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

Christianity isn't just about the celebration of Christmas, Palm Sunday and Easter morning. It's also about this darker season. Without going through the darkness we will never understand the purpose of the Lamb's sacrifice, and the glorious celebrations will never have their full value for us.

Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.


FrenziedFeline said...

Thanks for the explanation. I've had only a superficial understanding of Lent before.

By the way, love the phrase, "flabby spiritual life," I've got to remember that one! :)

Erudite Redneck said...

Good stuff, Trixie. I find myself being more Lenty than ever this year. Not surprising, I guess. I really have had some major reawakening, starting with Katrina.

Thansk for the splaining. :-)

TECH said...

Nicely written. Thank you.

Genevieve said...

That was a good explanation of the season. I am a Lutheran (LCMS), and we too observe Lent as a season of spiritual introspection and discipline. Lutherans don't really preach the idea of "giving up something for Lent", but individuals sometimes decide to practice such a discipline. However the real focus of the season is the sacrifice that our loving Savior made for us!

I love the minor chords of the Lenten hymn tunes. Here is one of my favorites -- Aberystwyth (midi | page.) Also see this version with words. (A link for the melody appears at the bottom.)

Trixie said...

Genevieve, that is beautiful. I have not been familiar with that hymn before but I like it very, very much!

Right now one of my favorites is "Oh Sacred Head Now Wounded." My handbell choir has been practicing this for a couple of months. We just went to a handbell festival on Saturday where we were among 400 bell ringers playing this (and other songs) in concert.

GP said...

Wonderful, Trixie, thanks.

I didn't grow up with the Lenten tradition but observing it in recent years greatly awakened my Christian self-discipline. In fact, my life underwent a major change while strictly observing Lent several years ago.

For me, it is a time of introspection and penitence. The joy of Easter Sunday was never quite so overwhelmingly joyful as the first time I celebrated it after a season of Lent.