Ash Wednesday marks the start of the observation of Lent, a season of self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter.
Lent is often described as lasting forty days (excluding Sundays) which recalls the Biblical account of Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4.1-13).
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. Ashes made from palm crosses are blessed and are used to make crosses on people's foreheads. The custom dates back to the middle ages.
Ash Wednesday services set the tone for Lent, with sombre readings and hymns and a focus on penitence (saying sorry for and turning away from sin).
Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence. From the Middle Ages onward it has been a custom to begin Lent by having the sign of the cross marked on one’s forehead in ash. Lent is a time of preparation, particularly for those who are to be baptized at Easter, but the whole Christian community is encouraged to join them in study and self-reflection.
As Holy Week approaches, the atmosphere of the season darkens. Bible readings begin to anticipate the story of Christ’s suffering and death. Holy Week begins with the re-enactment of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. This is the beginning of a journey of the imagination which takes us to the Upper Room for the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, through Jesus' betrayal, trial and crucifixion on Good Friday.
In the Vigil on the night before Easter Day, the Church gathers to commemorate the mighty works of God through reading of scripture in preparation for the proclaiming of Christ’s resurrection.
A Prayer for Lent
our lives are laid open before you:
rescue us from the chaos of sin
and through the death of your Son
bring us healing and make us whole
in Jesus Christ our Lord
Ash Wednesday is a day of turnings. A day when we turn inwards and examine our lives; a day when we turn from the depth of winter to waiting for Easter. And a day when we choose to turn away from sin and towards new life.
This isn’t something we do on our own. Christians all over the world use this time as a line in the sand, a yearly reminder of both our frailty, and God’s grace.
The fact that we do this together, rather than on our own, reminds us that it isn’t just our personal lives that need transforming, but that of our communities, countries and entire world. On Ash Wednesday, and in Lent, we lament the brokenness of the whole world, its sin, inequality and injustice, and we long for God’s intervention to come and teach us what justice, peace and freedom truly look like.