Today marks the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday. I generally have been in churches that don’t pay a lot of attention to Lent (none that outright discourage it as some Protestants tend to do simply because it is associated with Catholicism) but the past two years or so I’ve begun to see more and more value to the season of Lent as well as the Christian calendar in general.
We tend to pay a lot more attention to Christmas. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a lot of important theological significance in the Incarnation. That’s one of our core beliefs and sets up a lot of other things we say, especially in Anabaptist traditions that emphasize Jesus as the ultimate revelation of God. That’s an essential and foundational lesson.
Ultimately, though, I tend to think that the themes of Lent are even more important for many of us right now because they are lacking in a lot of Western churches. At Christmas we say that Jesus is the incarnation of God and we Christians are supposed to follow that model but we usually aren’t doing so as part of the Christmas celebration itself. Lent on the other hand has traditionally invited us to journey with Jesus through the hardest and most important time of his ministry. He has given and modelled profound teaching about radical sacrifice for others, but the ultimate demonstration will come with his own death in the most cruel way possible.
Today we begin the 40-day journey with Ash Wednesday. The name comes from the liturgical tradition of marking a cross on your forehead in ashes made from burning the previous year’s Palm Sunday palms. It serves as a sign of repentance, a symbolism that goes back into the Hebrew Bible. It serves as a reminder of human mortality, that no matter how hard we try to avoid it we came from dust and will return to dust. And it serves as a reminder that despite our addictions to Western comforts, the suffering of Jesus for our sake extends to a call for us to suffer for the sake of others. Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t spread ashes on your forehead this morning, but either way during this season challenge yourself to focus on what you are clinging to but are being called to give up for the sake of Jesus and his Kingdom.