Yes, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
Lent is the season in the Liturgical Church Calendar which precedes Easter. The name “Lent” comes from an Old English word “lencten,” which means spring, because the days “lengthen” with more sunlight and the growing season begins.
The ancient church adopted 40 days for Lent because of its Biblical significance of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness for 40 days, the rain of The Flood for 40 days and 40 nights, and others. Because the early church celebrated every Sunday as a re-celebration of the first Easter, the day Jesus’ rose from the dead, the Sundays were not to be included in the 40 days of solemn repentance and preparation.
So, Lent is 40 days before Easter, not counting the Sundays, which always brings it back to a Wednesday, this day which is called Ash Wednesday. It’s called Ash Wednesday because the worship services of the day include an ancient rite of “The Imposition of The Ashes.” This is a symbolic throwback to the Old Testament custom of a person dressing in sack cloth and pouring ashes upon his head in a dramatic declaration of repentance and remorse for his sin or sins.
Today we prepare a small bowl of ashes by burning the left-over palm fronds from the previous Palm Sunday, mixed with a few drops of oil.
Before the ashes are used in the Ash Wednesday Service, we follow the ancient custom of making extended and heart-felt confession of our sin and sins.
Our sin is our unfortunate “fallen condition” or “original sin” with which we were born as members of the “fallen sinful humanity.” We know this puts us at odds with our Perfect Creator, and we confess to Him that we acknowledge our own incapacity to mend this broken relationship.
We also confess the result of our sin, which are the sins we commit every day against God and against our fellow human beings. The Ten Commandments give us a place to start as we see in them our failures, faults, and short-comings.
This then is our confession. “Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your holy name. Amen”
It is at this point that we come forward to the altar and the pastor smudges a cross on each forehead saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This is the harsh but true reality that left to ourselves, we would be nothing more than “condemned sinners” with no redemption or salvation possible.
But, after the true and honest confession of our sin and our own failure to do anything about it, the sweet words of forgiveness are declared to the penitent and believing hearts. The pastor declares, “Almighty God, in His mercy (His grace, His unconditional love for us which we do not deserve), has given His Son Jesus Christ to die for us and, for His (Jesus’) sake, God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ, and by His authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”
So, today, March 1, is Ash Wednesday for this year, which gives us 40 days from today, not counting the Sundays, to use as a special in-depth and intentional time of spiritual renewal and growth.
Here at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church we will have two Ash Wednesday Services. The first at noon, and another opportunity at 7:30 p.m. Along with the “Imposition of Ashes,” we will offer Holy Communion to all baptized Christians who believe that in the bread and the wine we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith.
Children who have not yet received their First Communion instructions are invited forward to receive a special blessing. You are invited to attend.
As we enter this “Holy Season,” let me encourage all of you to take this opportunity both to strengthen and to renew your commitment to Christ and to your Christian faith. As a pastor, I have a deep concern for the spiritual well-being of our country and our community. We must maintain our “Biblical World View” in order to correctly understand who we are as created creatures, what our purpose is on this earth, and what future we have beyond the few years of existence here. Please join me this Lent to grow in this way.
Find Kollmeyer at princeofpeacefayette.org. Sunday contemporary worship at 9:15, traditional at 11:15.