Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of a privileged journey of forty days for Christians.

As you know, Jesus retreated into the wilderness and fasted for forty days to prepare for his ministry. It was for Him a time of contemplation, reflection, and preparation. By observing Lent, most Christians join Jesus on His retreat.

Lent consists of the forty days before Easter. Biblical societies relied very heavily on wood fires for heating and cooking, which meant that keeping ashes under control was a major housekeeping task. Then as now, if a person was preoccupied with something serious, they didn’t always tend to the housekeeping—it’s the least of their concerns. Imagine that there is a death in the family. A friend stopping by to pay their respects might gently say, “Did you know you have ashes on your face?”

So ashes became a sign of remorse, repentance, and mourning. Today someone might wear a black armband to signify that they are in mourning; back then people put ashes on their foreheads.

I attended church this morning and I can tell you that the church was packed full. It was great to see such reverence. The priest even said that Jesus must be happy to see such numbers of worshipers to follow his steps.

You can find biblical examples of this in 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1-3, Job 42:6, and Jeremiah 6:26. During Lent, ancient Christians mourned their sins and repented of them, so it was appropriate for them to show their sincerity by having ashes on their foreheads. The custom has persisted in the church as secular society has changed around us. It is most appropriate on Ash Wednesday, when we begin a period of sober reflection, self-examination, and spiritual redirection.

Traditionally, the ashes for the Ash Wednesday service come from burning the palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. If you burn the palm fronds yourself, don’t add any other ingredient—just burn the ashes plain. Add a little oil to the ashes so that they will stick to people’s foreheads. Of course, it is easier to purchase them from a religious supply house.

Some people only celebrate the happy times in Jesus’ life: Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas. But I think as true friends, we should also watch and pray with Him on HolyThursday, stand by Him at the cross on Good Friday, and retreat with Him into the wilderness during Lent.

In India, yogis often mark their forehead with ashes to remind themselves that they are made of carbon and will return to this state whilst their spirit will continue to survive. It is a lesson to practice detachment from earthly matters. The spiritual is more important than the physical.

May I wish all of you Christians a holy spiritual journey for the next 40 days?

1 comment so far ↓

#1 Roushdat on 02.21.07 at 9:12 pm

Now I know why you people put ashes on your forehead 🙂 Thx buddy, gud to know about different cultures and religions 😉

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