Ash Wednesday may or may not be a part of your spiritual tradition. After all, it’s not a required Christian practice. But Ash Wednesday provides an opportunity to take our spiritual temperature and examine how we’re doing on the journey.
Why observe Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday emphasizes two main themes.
- It’s a time to be be honest about our sinfulness and acknowledge our need for God’s forgiveness.
- It reminds us of our mortality — ashes to ashes and dust to dust.
Lent and Ash Wednesday aren’t intended to make us feel guilty about eating chocolate or meat. This time of year is meant to strengthen our relationship with God. If Ash Wednesday isn’t a normal practice for you, here are a few reasons why you might want to start making it a part of your spiritual discipline.
- Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the season of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter Sunday. The day itself isn’t as important as the Lenten season that follows. Lent is an extended time of self reflection, prayer and sacrifice. It’s a time we set aside in preparation for Easter.
- Ashes remind us that humility and repentance are part of a normal Christian life. The Old Testament marks times of repentance with sackcloth and ashes (Esther 4:1, Jonah 3:5-7). While cycles of repentance and forgiveness should be a year-round practice for a healthy spiritual life, Ash Wednesday represents a special day for us to turn from our sins.
- Ash Wednesday reminds us to consider the spiritual discipline of simple living. The act of sacrifice or giving up something for a period of time forces us to think about what is really necessary for healthy living. The act of giving up chocolate or alcohol or meat isn’t nearly as important as how those actions cause us to reflect on what it means to live more simply. What do we really need versus what do we really want? How can we focus on enough rather than constantly striving to accumulate more?
- The symbol of ashes is an outward sign of an inward reality. Ash Wednesday is one of the few days when our Christian faith truly makes us stand out. Sure, people might mistake that black cross on your forehead for dirt. But it invites us to consider our place in the global church. We have the chance to stand in solidarity with Christians around the world and throughout the centuries.
Whether or not you make it to church to receive ashes, Ash Wednesday still provides an opportunity to consider the seasonality of our faith. There are times of repentance and times of celebration, sorrow and joy, fasting and feasting. When it’s practiced thoughtfully, the Christian faith recognizes the full range of our human experience, while pointing us toward an eternal hope in Christ.