Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, a special day celebrated in many Christian churches. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the beginning of the 40 week days before Easter. Lent is observed in many Christian churches as a period of prayer, fasting, confession, repentance, and self-denial. It echoes the 40 days in the wilderness Jesus spent fasting and overcoming temptation. It also assists Christians in focusing on Jesus resolute journey leading to his crucifixion and resurrection. We learn to identify with his unwavering obedience. We recognize the price he paid for us.
Our faith journey, described in Changing Churches, began in a United Methodist Church - a church that observes Ash Wednesday. Throughout our years there, Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of a solemn and holy time of reflection. While searching for a church in 2008 we attended an Ash Wednesday service at another Methodist Church. I noted in my journal:
We sang six verses of "Just as I Am" and "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood." The hymns, responsive readings, confession, and pastor's message, touched and filled us. We received ashes in the shape of the cross on our foreheads and took Communion - opening and recommitting ourselves to Him. What a sacred event!
In 2004 the teacher of my ladies Bible class mentioned journaling Psalm 51 (about David's sin), one phrase at a time, for the forty days of Lent. This proved to be a sobering but valuable exercise. In order to build up the church, Christians must change and grow. We must face our own sin and repent. The next forty days are a good time to focus on this in prayer.
Understanding the Church Calendar
For those not in a liturgical church, Mark Galli's explanation from his book Beyond Smells and Bells, may help you appreciate the emphasis on the church calendar. He writes:
The church calendar aims at nothing less than to change the way we experience time and perceive reality. . . . Advent signals the new year. For the church, the annual rhythm is not winter, spring, summer and fall, but Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. . . . The church calendar is not about the cycle of life - school or sports or harvest time - but about the movement of history toward a glorious goal. We celebrate the past events of history not merely to remember them, but note how they infuse the present with meaning and power, and point us to our future hope.
Let this be a Holy season for all Christians to ponder and pray and deepen our faith.