The New Year has come and gone, and we are quickly approaching the Lenten season. If this is the first time visiting our website, welcome. For those of you who have some question about lent, please continue to read on, and I will try to answer your questions. What is Lent, some of you may be asking, and why it’s so important? Let me begin by answering the first question…March 2, 2022, is the first day of the Lenten season or better yet, a day known as Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the Wednesday of the seventh week before Easter and the first day of Lent. Now, this day is named for the practice of applying ashes to a persons’ forehead in the sign of a cross, a practice that many Lutheran congregations have found to be a very meaningful part of the Ash Wednesday liturgy. Using ashes as a sign of repentance is an ancient practice, often mentioned in the Bible (for example Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Jeremiah 6:26; Matthew 11:21). The early Christians adopted the use of ashes from Jewish practice as an external mark of penitence.
Secondly, ashes symbolize several aspects of our human existence: Ashes remind us of God’s condemnation of sin, as God said to Adam, "Dust you are and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). Ashes also suggest cleansing and renewal. They were used anciently in the absence of soap. Even on Ash Wednesday, this most penitential day, we receive ashes in the form of the cross, the same symbol placed on our bodies with water in our baptism. Even in this ashen mark of death, we anticipate the new life of Easter. Ashes remind us of the shortness of human life, for it is said as we are buried into the ground or as ashes are placed in an urn. God created humanity from the dust of the earth, and it is to dust that we shall all return. Typically, the pastor says at the closing of the burial, "We commit this body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. Ashes are a symbol of our need to repent, confess our sins, and return to God. Remember, our time on this earth is short – are we living the life to which God has called us? Are we prepared to give an account for how we have spent our days?
In biblical times when bad news was received or when sudden calamity came, it was customary to tear the clothes (2 Sam 1:2) and to sprinkle earth or ashes on the head (Josh 7:6). Hair cloth ("sackcloth") was adopted as clothing in times of grief (Isa 22:12). We read of covering the head in mourning (Jeremiah 14:3), and also the lower part of the face (Ezekiel 24:17, 22). Among those who habitually wore some covering on the head it was a sign of mourning to let the hair go loose (Lev 10:6), which normally (like that of a Greek Orthodox priest in the Near East) would be coiled up.
Now, some of you may also be asking, “Where do the ashes come from?” Another good question. The ashes used for Ash Wednesday come from the palm branches that were given out on Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday of the previous year. They are “Literally” burned to ashes and mixed with a small drop of olive oil.
Ash Wednesday is a somber day. But if we take it seriously, Ash Wednesday can be the beginning of a changed life. I hope I have answered some of your questions about the upcoming Lenten Season.
So, let me ask you a question… are you ready for more? Are you ready for a deeper faith, stronger community, and a closer relationship with God? If so, come and worship with us and find out more.
Rev. Timothy A. Casaday