Ash Wednesday 2016

Lent & Ash Wednesday

Lent at Hope City Presbyterian

Lent is the 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter, celebrated by the Church since at least the 4th century, if not earlier. Traditionally, it is a time that the church intentionally engages in a period of repentance and renewal as it prepares to celebrate Easter. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the most significant events on the church calendar, and our belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection is the crux of our Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15). As we approach this most significant day, it only makes sense that we would enter a season of focused repentance and renewal by remembering what Christ did on the cross.

Lent is a time for us to identify with the suffering of our saviour and to grow in our understanding of why he did suffer on the cross. I encourage you to not only join us at our Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday services, but to consider some additional ways that you, and maybe your family, can participate in Lent. Here are several ideas to get you started.

  1. The 40 days of lent is associated with Christ’s suffering. Consider doing some form of “fasting” for the 40 days, as a way to enter into and reflect on Christ suffering for you. Try giving up something that is a part of your daily/weekly rhythm and replacing it with something that will help you focus on Jesus. For instance, the traditional fast is to go without food and spend time in prayer, or you could give up TV and instead read a book about the cross. The point is to be creative and sacrificial doing something that will help you engage in repentance and renewal and align your heart with our suffering saviour.
  2. Meditate on the Scriptures pertaining to Jesus’ suffering during this time. A couple of suggestions would be Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Read these passages several times over Lent, allowing them to soak deeply into you. You’ll notice that the more often you read the passages the more you’ll start notice things that you missed before, often things that the Holy Spirit will bring to light for your soul to be nourished on.
  3. Actively participate in the formal services: Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.
  4. Read good Christian literature about Jesus, the Cross and the significance of his sacrifice. You could read books such as The Cross of Christ by John Stott, The Cross of Jesus by Leon Morris, The King of God’s Kingdom by David Seccombe, Cross-Examined by Mark Meynell, Redemption Accomplished & Applied by John Murray, and others (check with Stephen for some other reading suggestions if you want).

Remember it’s not about ritual and you don’t have to do this to be a good Christian. We are saved by grace alone, but this grace is not cheap. We are saved by the precious blood of the lamb (1 Peter 1:19), and so we engage Lent as a community hoping that Christ’s costly grace may become deeply precious to us.

Ash Wednesday (an excerpt from the Worship Source Book)

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. By the fourth century the Western church determined that the Lenten period of fasting and renewal should correspond to Christ’s forty-day fast (Matt. 4:2), and, by counting forty days back from Easter (excluding Sundays, which remain “feast” days), arrived at the Wednesday seven weeks before Easter. At one time Lent was primarily viewed as a period during which converts prepared for baptism on Easter Sunday, but later the season became a general time of penitence and renewal for all Christians. Thus Ash Wednesday became the day that marked the beginning of the Lenten renewal. The aim of Ash Wednesday worship is threefold: to meditate on our mortality, sinfulness, and need of a savior; to renew our commitment to daily repentance in the Lenten season and in all of life; and to remember with confidence and gratitude that Christ has conquered death and sin. Ash Wednesday worship, then, is filled with gospel truth. It is a witness to the power and beauty of our union with Christ and to the daily dying and rising with Christ that this entails.

The imposition of ashes is often a central part of the worship service. Ashes have a long history in biblical and church traditions. In Scripture ashes or dust symbolize frailty or death (Gen. 18:27), sadness or mourning (Esther 4:3), judgment (Lam. 3:16), and repentance (Jon. 3:6). Some traditions also have considered ash a purifying or cleansing agent. All these images are caught up in the church’s use of ashes as a symbol appropriate for Lent.

In Christ’s passion we see God’s judgment on evil; in our penitence we express sorrow and repentance for our sins; in our rededication we show that we are purified and renewed. The ashes, which often are the burnt residue of the previous year’s palms from Palm Sunday, are often mixed with a little water and carried in a small dish. As the leader goes from worshiper to worshiper, or as worshipers come forward, the leader dips a finger in the moist ash and makes a cross on each person’s forehead (the “imposition”), saying words such as “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” or, “Consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Jesus Christ.

A Personal Note by Me (Stephen) on Ash Wednesday

We are nowhere in Scripture commanded to observe Ash Wednesday (or Lent for that matter) – in fact the Bible warns us about making certain special days compulsory in observance (Col 2:16). We are, however, commanded in the Bible to do things together that might result in the strengthening and encouragement of the church as a whole. We are simply making use of Ash Wednesday to do this very thing. The imposition of ashes on the day has no magical effect or anything silly like that, it’s simply a visible sign that serves to remind us of our human frailty and need for a saviour. Maybe the whole idea of having ash put on your forehead freaks you out – that’s fine, no one is going to make you do anything against your conscience. But I would encourage you to make use of these symbols and signs to compliment and enhance your worship of God in a similar way to how one uses the communion elements to have our hearts nourished by God’s grace. We are people who are shaped by rituals/practices/liturgy, spiritual or secular, formal or informal. Rituals mold our hearts and orientate our desires in certain directions. The more we can fill our lives with liturgy that awakens our hearts to God’s grace the more we’ll feel empowered to love and serve him and love our neighbours as ourselves.

I hope this Ash Wednesday will serve as a real blessing to you in your walk with Christ and that it will provide you with the perfect springboard into the Lenten period.