Why Ash Wednesday and Lent?

Ash Wednesday Service

Joel 2: 12-18

Dc. Larry Brockman


Why Ash Wednesday?  Why Lent?  And just what are we supposed to do?

Well, in the early Christian Church, folks prayed, fasted, and renewed themselves spiritually as they prepared for Baptism into the Church on Easter.  After most people converted to Christianity, the Church recognized the need for the people to renew themselves spiritually each year as they prepared for Easter because the converts lost some of the enthusiasm for their faith and needed to be reminded of what it was all about.   

And so, way back in the fourth Century,  the Church instituted the season of Lent for fasting and penance to prepare spiritually for Easter.  What was earlier observed as a week-long fast was expanded to 40 days, because Jesus, after his Baptism by John, went away for 40 days in the desert and fasted and reflected on what God’s mission was for him.   

He emerged resolved to change his life from that of a carpenter to a preacher.  And that’s pretty much what we should do- reflect on how we should live the life God wants for us.  But how should we do it?   

There’s a saying used in 12 step addiction programs that I think gives us a big clue:  “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”.  I think most of us are guilty of that.  We live our lives in a fixed pattern.  A change is hard for us.   

In a few minutes, you will receive ashes.  These ashes remind you that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Yes, indeed, as far as this life, you started out without the life force as “dust”, and some day you, as with all of us, will return to dust.   

But we all have the opportunity, shown to us through Jesus’ death and Resurrection at Easter, to live forever in the Kingdom of God.  And Jesus Gospel message was this- repent, believe, and follow me.  To make sure we are on the right course let’s all repent- which means ‘make a change’.     

The Church advises us to use fasting, prayer, and almsgiving during Lent as the tools for making a change.  First, let’s talk about fasting.  Rather than giving up chocolate or beer, ask yourself this question:  “What is it in my life that is interfering with my ability to use my time better?”  And then cut some of the time you spend on this. That should lead to some spare time for prayer. 

Now, the reason prayer is so important,  Is that it gives us the quiet time with God to reflect on what needs to change.  It is the key to identifying how we can expect different results.  So, use the time freed up by your “fasting”  to pray, maybe first thing in the morning; or last thing at night.  But in any event, find a half hour, or surely even just 10 minutes a day.  Go somewhere quiet, and reflect on your weaknesses.   

Reflect on the 7 deadly sins- Pride, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Laziness, Anger, and Envy.  Almost all of us are guilty of one of these.  Ask God to forgive you, and help you to make a change.  And then change your life to eliminate the bad habit or tendency   

Lastly, almsgiving.  Rather than dropping a few extra bucks in the collection box, think of almsgiving as a way to use the extra time and energy that you receive after you change one of those bad habits for doing something positive for someone else.   Do something that hurts a little bit, because it’s a stretch.   

Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving.  Not only is it good for Lent, but it’s a way of life for continuous improvement!  It’s why we have Lent. 


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