Ash Wednesday marks the 40th day (not counting Sundays which are always a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ) before Easter.
Most evangelicals do not celebrate Lent, and in coming from a more liturgical background, mostly Presbyterian and Methodist, I have marked Lent in one way or another since my college days at Point Loma Nazarene University.
But about twenty years ago, I became quite passionate about celebrating the Church Year, including Advent and Lent. Partly from the wonderful book Celebrating the Christian Year by Martha Zimmerman (a pastor's wife) and partly from my interest in the Book of Common Prayer, I began celebrating Lent in great earnest.
I was thrilled when our former church, Lake Murray Community Church, began to celebrate Advent, yet the pastors and elders would not mark Lent in any way. We celebrated Holy Week, but not Ash Wednesday or Lent as a whole.
A few years ago, my Bible study leader at our evangelical church asked me to share about Ash Wednesday and Lent in our inductive Bible study. The pastor allowed it, but would not grant permission for another Bible study to join us. Here is a summary of my talk on Ash Wednesday and Lent which may be found in the links under the Meditative Meanderings header: On Lent.
About six years ago, I spent Ash Wednesday at the beautiful Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, the largest of the California Missions, with my dear friend Carmen. Our day retreat concluded with the Imposition of Ashes, marking us as Christ's Own as crosses were drawn on our foreheads with ashes, a Biblical symbol of repentance.
This Ash Wednesday I plan to attend morning services at Larkspur House with Blessed Trinity Anglican Church.
I find Ash Wednesday among the most moving of all the services of the year. As I humble myself, marked by repentance as belonging to Christ, I feel more His than ever, and I invariably weep at the poignant sweetness of being branded (albeit temporarily) as His.
God has impressed upon me which habits to surrender to Him this Lent. It is going to be extremely difficult in fasting from these things, but that is the nature of Lent: to remove what may be impeding our relationship with Christ and allow better habits to take their place--habits which glorify Him. It's a time of spiritual housecleaning, and it takes much prayer, effort, and discipline to exchange one habit for another.
"A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome by habit."
A few other quotations I unearthed today and added to my second Quotation Journal:
"The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare.... By it we gain strength against the prince of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help."
--Pope Benedict XVI, from Non Ambigimus
I respect this idea of Lent being a tool of spiritual warfare, allowing us, through the power of Christ, to vanquish our enemy.
"Renounce yourselves in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do not pamper yourself, but love fasting."
--Saint Benedict, from Chapter Four of The Rule
This giving up of self is at the heart of Lent, allowing us the opportunity to change our hearts' perspectives, letting go of that which binds us to the world and grasping that which pulls us closer to the heart of Christ our Lord.
Here is the Collect for Ash Wednesday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011. This Collect is prayed daily during the Lenten season until Maundy Thursday:
ALMIGHTY and eternal God, you hate nothing that you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who turn to you; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts; As we are truly sorry for our sins and admit our guilt, may we obtain from you, the God of all mercy, complete release and forgiveness; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Wisdom 11.23-26; Psalm 51.10)
So as I pray for myself in offering up some very pleasant diversions in order to focus more on Jesus, I pray for us all who celebrate the Christian Year to have a Holy Lent, one set apart for the glory of our Lord.
Walking the pilgrim pathway with you,