Ash Wednesday: A day of repentance

Have you heard of Lent?

No, not lint, which is something that is sometime found in your pockets, but Lent, that solemn religious observance in many Christian churches that begins on Ash Wednesday and which ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday.

Lent is observed in Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches.

The first mention of Lent is found in a 7th Century church worship service book, but scholars believe that Lent was practiced by the Christian church much earlier.

The purpose of Lent is to prepare Christians for the joyful celebration of Easter by remembering the sacrifices Jesus made. This is done in a variety of ways: prayer, fasting, repentance, and practicing various spiritual disciplines. Many Christians fast during Lent. Some choose to give up one meal a week for the whole season of Lent. They then donate the money that would have been spent on food to a charity.

Those who aren’t up to giving up a whole meal, choose to give up something that is a favorite as their discipline. This could be giving up sweets, or special coffee, or watching TV or playing video games or texting. This is done to replicate the sacrifice Jesus made when he journeyed into the desert for 40 days and faced temptation.

Other Christians choose to “take on” something as their spiritual discipline. They may commit to doing something they don’t always do such as daily reading of the Bible or setting aside a regular time for intentional prayer and focus on God.

Still others use Lent as a time to do something for others such as working in a local food bank or making weekly visits to people in a nursing home.

In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the start of the season of Lent. Officially named “Day of Ashes,” Ash Wednesday always falls 40 days prior to Easter (Sundays are not included in the count).

This year Ash Wednesday is on Feb. 14.

Ash Wednesday is a time to remember our own mortality and repent for our sins.

The ashes are a symbol of death in the Bible. God formed humans out of dust (Genesis 2:7) and then breathed life into them. Human beings return to dust and ashes when they die. Many times, in Scripture, the practice of repentance is associated with ashes.

During Ash Wednesday services of worship, a minister distributes ashes by lightly rubbing the shape of a cross with ashes onto the foreheads of worshipers. The tradition of tracing a cross on the forehead is meant to identify the faithful with Jesus Christ.

In Sunnyside, many churches will offer Ash Wednesday services. There will be ecumenical worship services at noon with a brief service and again at 5:30 p.m. at Sunnyside United Methodist Church, 906 E. Edison Ave.

These services are prepared by the clergy and members of Sunnyside’s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Our Saviour’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church, and United Methodist Church.

For those, who are not able to attend an Ash Wednesday service, there is the “Drive-By Ashes” or “Ashes on the Go” which will be offered by the pastors from 10:30-11:30 a.m. on the corner of Ninth and Edison and from 2–3 p.m. at 737 S. 16th St.

Everyone is welcome to stop by to receive ashes, a prayer and a blessing.

— Pat Beeman is pastor of the Sunnyside United Methodist Church.


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