Genesis 3:19 says, "By the sweat of your faceYou will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”
So why is that significant? Today is Ash Wednesday.
You may see people walking around with black crosses on their foreheads.
You may hear about people giving up something like social media or chocolate.
You may come across someone who won't eat meat during the week, but will feast on a juicy hamburger on Friday.
You may ask, "what is this all about exactly?"
|Sarak Korf via Flickr.com|
Ash Wednesday is a ritual practiced among Catholics and Protestants such as Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Methodists.
Today marks the beginning of the Lenten period, meaning the remembrance of Jesus' 40 days of fasting, temptation by the devil, and crucifixion. It is during this time when people of these denominations reflect on Jesus' suffering, their sin, and live in moderation.
Sounds gloomy, huh?
For some people, maybe not. It is a time for them to humble themselves.
I grew up Lutheran so I practiced the ritual of Ash Wednesday, as well as observing Lent.
I think a lot of good can come from this practice, however, when observing this time, one must be careful not to resent it or let it get in the way of it's sole purpose.
I thought it would be helpful to learn about the history of Lent in hopes to deepen my knowledge of this practice.
Did you know it began as a time to fast and prepare for baptism?
In the third and fourth centuries, lent was a pathway to newness by way of baptism on Easter.
Baptism was the focus of this period. Although the Bible does not speak of observing Lent explicitly, it does speak of rituals pertaining to fasting and humbleness. We first hear of the Lenten period being observed by a letter from Dionysius addressing the length of Lent. Also, in 325 CE, the Emperor Constantine spoke of Lenten fasting at the Council of Nicea.
Later on, the focus turned to confession and repentance rather than baptism.
People who committed serious sins would engage in public penance (confessing publicly) for forty days ending with a celebration feast on Easter. Some would still be baptized as well.
In the beginning, the fasting would begin on Sunday, but Pope Gregory the Great changed it to Wednesday and allowed for feasting on Sundays, instead of fasting. Because of him, we call today Ash Wednesday. He even started the practice of drawing ash crosses on people's foreheads to be a sign of grievance and repentance.
As time has gone on, the practice of fasting has been modified. Sometime in the 800s people could eat after 3 pm, then people could eat after noon in the 1400s, and in 1966 the Vatican only required fasting to take place on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Also, during the 800s was the beginning of fasting from meat in order to "show of poverty before God" since meat was considered a wealthy food.
It's interesting how this ritual has changed. When I partake in Ash Wednesday and Lent, I usually feel sorrow and gloom. I don't necessarily feel that it's a bad thing, because it is important to remember the suffering Jesus faced for us. We must also be careful to spend this time being grateful, even if we've given up chocolate. [I know it would be hard.] Matthew 6:16-18 says, “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who seeswhat is done in secret will reward you." We are to be representatives of Jesus Christ, so when we're walking around with ash crosses on our foreheads we must be careful not to complain about what you're giving up.
With that being said, I really like the way Lent started out, as a focus of baptism. Now, if you were already baptized, of course you wouldn't get baptized every year, but remembering what comes with the suffering of Jesus Christ, the resurrection, is the most glorious part of Lent and Easter.
Let me say this again, remembrance, repentance, and sacrifice are HUGE. We should do those things, but we should be careful not to become so discouraged that we let it change our daily lifestyle of being joyful in all circumstances or become so wrapped up in the tradition that we forget the purpose. I think we can have a combination of both, remembrance and newness. Knowing our sins can surely bog us down, but facing our sins with the reality of Jesus providing us a newness can lighten our days during Lent, as well as throughout the year.
So whether or not you are partaking in Ash Wednesday, remembering the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and the glorious outcome of His resurrection and forgiveness, should help us to be thankful now and throughout the year!
Do you practice Ash Wednesday? If so, how does it make you feel? Are you giving up anything?
I'd love to hear your thoughts!