By Matthew Castro
WHAT IS LENT?
Lent is a season leading up to Easter, when we intentionally remember Jesus and the grace that is found through faith in him alone. Remembering Lent is not necessary or central to experiencing life in Christ. Lent also not a season of “doing penance.” Will Walker and Kendel Haug wrote, “Lent is not about our faithfulness, but rather about the faithfulness of Jesus on our behalf.”
Lent was established by the church in the 4th century to provide 40 days from Easter as a period of preparation and repentance for Good Friday and Easter Sunday. This period generates a longing for the joy of Easter. This past year with the pandemic and a separated Easter in 2020 has created a deeper longing in the church for the joy of Easter.
Lent is a journey to the cross. During Lent, the church meditates on their sins and weakness, looking to Jesus as our perfect example and substitute, and being thankful for his victory over Satan, sin, and death.
I hope, as we recognize Lent starting on Ash Wednesday, you immerse yourself in the grand story of the gospel. The gospel story of Jesus Christ, the beloved son of the invisible God, taking on flesh and being the perfect substitute to appease God’s righteous anger toward our sin and rebellion. Paul wrote, “He became sin who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
WHAT IS ASH WEDNEDAY?
Ash Wedneday marks the beginning of the Lenten season. Will Walker and Kendel Haug wrote, “The aim of Ash Wednesday is threefold: to meditate on our need for a Savior; to renew our commitment to daily repentence; and to remember with confidence and gratitude that Jesus has conquered sin and death.”
Paul wrote, “Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:8-11).
During a traditional Ash Wednesday service, ashes are applied to the worshiper’s forehead in the shape of a cross. Dust and ash symbolize mortality (Gen. 18:27), mourning (Esther 4:3), judgement (Lam. 3:16), and repentance (Jn 3:6).
An ashen cross is a reminder that you come from dust and to dust you shall return one day. But Paul reminds us in Romans 6:8-11 that Christ Jesus died to sin, and was raised from the dead. Death has no dominion over him. The ashen cross also symbollizes our death to sin and resurrection to God in Christ Jesus. Death has no dominion over us, because of our union with Christ.
Take Wednesday as an opportunity to confess sin and bind yourself to Jesus, who conquered sin and death through his death on the cross to reconcile you to himself. Regardless your current spiritual state right now, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13).
Spend some time being still before God, asking the Spirit to search you: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps. 139:23-24).
What habits and/or tendencies of self-absorption do you need to tear yourself from?
“Journey with us, O holy God, as we begin our way to the cross. Sharpen our focus, that our attention may center more on you than ourselves. Lead us through the shadows of darkness and prepare our hearts, that we might be a people of prayer, ready to perceive and respond to your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, In his name we pray. Amen.”