My Lent-long series on How to Grow through Giving Up begins with answering the question… What is Ash Wednesday?
What is Ash Wednesday?
My understanding of Ash Wednesday when I was a kid was murky at best. It was one of those weird things Catholics did. In junior high there was a girl in my class who got to leave school, and came back with weird gray marks on her forehead. The cross-like smudge was as meaningless to me as a bindi. I didn’t know what it had to do with her not being able to eat meat, either. Wait! That’s why there are so many Fish Fry Fridays around here?!?
I learned that Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent… a time when Catholics stop eating meat on Fridays because they think it pleases God. The traditional practices of Catholicism flummoxed me. Why did they think they needed to confess to a priest when we have Jesus? Who does the priest think he is, any way, and what’s up with reciting things about Mary to be forgiven? They worship Mary and other dead people they call saints? Candles. Incense. Latin.
Although I’ll never agree with the Catholic Church on everything, Lent is beautiful. It wasn’t tradition in Evangelical churches I grew up in, but it isn’t a strange ritual reserved for Catholics. It’s a useful observance for the entire Body of Christ.
There’s growing understanding and appreciation of Lent in non-liturgical Evangelical denominations and churches, but the ceremony of Ash Wednesday is still largely unpracticed, and slightly mysterious.
I love the symbolism…
The Tragedy of the Triumph
Palm Sunday is typically a day of celebration I don’t understand.
On the Sunday before Easter, the church commemorates the people’s excitement as Jesus made His way into Jerusalem.
Hosanna! they shouted, waving palm branches, and laying them in the path of His donkey. Many churches give out palm branches, and children in Sunday Schools act out the adoration.
But, soon, the people who welcomed Jesus turned on Him. Their cry hardened into Crucify!
Palm Sunday makes me feel sad.
God’s people were waiting for their Messiah. They longed for rescue from Roman oppresssion. Other men had captured their attention, but weren’t the Promised One. Then came Jesus. He was unlike any other. The miracles He could perform! The people’s cries of Hosanna? They were crying out for Him to save them.
But the salvation He brought was not the salvation they sought.
The Triumph of the Tragedy
We know what happened. The religious leaders came for Him on Thursday night, after He had shown His disciples how to serve others. As Jesus had sat and eaten with the Twelve before He washed their feet, He warned them of what was coming. Though they still didn’t understand. In a garden, after agonizing alone over the suffering that lay ahead, He was betrayed with a kiss. All His followers ran away. The next day, He was beaten beyond recognition, then subjected to a painful, shameful death on a cross.
But that wasn’t the end.
On Sunday, the Tomb was empty.
Jesus was alive.
Jesus is alive.
In Him, we have life.
He deserves our praise. Our hearts. Our minds. Our strength. Our time. Everything.God deserves our praise. Our hearts, minds, strength, time. EVERYTHING. #givingupforLent Click To Tweet
But there are so many other things, lesser things, that grab our attention. We let them pull us away from what is best, and give endless reasons to choose our way over His way.
Ashes to Ashes
I love this part: The ash used for Ash Wednesday is meant to be the from the burning of the previous year’s palm fronds.
Anything that is not true worship of God as He says He is, is empty, meaningless, useless. It stains us.
Empty worship, burned to ash.
The ash reminds us of our mortality. It reminds us of the worthlessness of lesser things than God.
For the Catholic, accepting the cross of ash is meant to be an outward sign of penitence.
It represents sorrow, a mourning over sin and all that we let come between us and God.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Forty days of self-denial leading up to the Easter, Resurrection Sunday.
Giving Up for Lent
While an arbitrary abstinence from something, like meat on Fridays, without consideration of why, and how giving that thing up frees us from what dishonors Christ to make room for more of His likeness in us, is meaningless.
Lent is a time to consider what holds us back from full obedience to, and communion with, God.
Over the next six weeks, as we proceed through Lent to Easter, I’ll be writing more about how we grow through giving up.
Check out the rest of the How to Grow through Giving Up series HERE.