Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a season in which the Christian church prepares itself for the remembrance of the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter weekend.
Ashes(or dust) are a symbol of human mortality, and the finite nature of the human body. In the ancient hebrew world those in mourning would cover themselves in ashes or dust to signify their grief.
Many Christians observe this day by having their priest or pastor draw a cross on their forehead using ash while the words of Genesis 3:19 are spoken, "for dust you are and to dust you will return." Through the placing of the ashes and the pronouncement of mortality we are acknowledging that we are in need of God's saving grace. The ashes serve as a symbol of our repentance (literally our acceptance of our own mortality and sin, and our turning towards God and the salvation provided in Jesus Christ). As we go through our day with the ashen cross on our forehead we serve as a tangible witness to other that salvation is possible because of the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Scripture Reading for Ash Wednesday
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-21
Devotional for Ash Wednesday
For many the season of Lent it is marked by fasting, a denial to the self of something we either hold dear or that can easily stand between us and what God has for us. The act of self denial, of fasting, is a spiritual discipline older than even Christianity itself, and has roots in the ancient world.
Matthew 6 doesn't tell us what we should fast; rather it talks about how we should fast.
Jesus points out that for his followers fasting is not a matter of what others see; instead it is about what God sees. If we boast about our fasting, if we 'disfigure our faces' as Jesus says, that is all the notice that we will receive for it. Rather than worrying about whether others know we are fasting or denying ourselves something during the season of Lent we should keep it quiet, a secret just between us and God. He will notice it, and that is all that matters.
Also, do not think that by fasting you are better than those who don't. Rather this season, if you fast, do it because God has asked and you have obeyed. Practicing spiritual disciplines for prideful reasons is still acting for prideful reasons. Let your act of fasting be born out of submission to God's voice in the weeks to come, and surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer for Ash Wednesday
Our Father in heaven. Your name is Holy and set apart from all others. Give us the strength we need for today. If there is anything keeping us from experiencing what you would have us experience during this season bring it before us plainly, and give us the strength to obey your commands. You are a good and righteous God.