I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:5-6
After speaking with my co-workers about Shrove Tuesday & Ash Wednesday yesterday I quickly realized they weren’t familiar with this important time leading up to Christ’s resurrection, I decided to blog about the facts and misconceptions of Ash Wednesday. One of the biggest being that Ash Wednesday is a holy day of obligation. It’s suggested to observe, it’s very Holy and special, but not an obligation.
Maybe you’re wondering why some of the people around you on Wednesday have “dirt” crosses on their heads, it’s because of Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the start of the Lenten season, which lasts for 40 days until Holy Saturday. Lent is celebrated by Roman Catholics and some Christian denominations around the world. This ash serves as a reminder that we come from dust and to dust our bodies will return.
One of the ways to observe Ash Wednesday for many is fasting, or abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting is also used in times of deep prayer, but a challenge of mine.
When I talk about Ash Wednesday people immediately assume I must be Catholic. No, I’m Methodist. Many denominations including Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists also participate in the day that starts the Lenten season. Eastern Orthodox churches have the great Lent, but start on ‘Clean Monday.’ While it doesn’t happen every year, this year Orthodox Easter and our Easter fall on the same day.
If you want to further research the meaning of ashes, the Christian Bible refers to ashes in multiple books. The practice of sprinkling of ashes can be traced back to the burning of palm branches being used for ashes starting in the 12th century.
Finally, the biggest barrier in most people’s mind is because they hear that people are obligated to give something up for Lent. Self-sacrifice isn’t a popular concept in our culture. While it’s encouraged by some denominations to sacrifice something for Lent, it’s NOT an obligation.
I hope this has cleared up some misunderstanding and made it easier for you to be open to our loving God during this Holy season.