For the Western Christian Caleendar Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs forty-six days (forty days not counting Sundays before Easter. It is a moveable, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as 4 February or as late as 10 March.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are typically gathered after the Palm Crosses from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned. This paste is used by the minister who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his or her own forehead and then on those of congregants. The minister administering ashes recites the words: "Remember (O man) that you are dust, and to dust you shall return", or "Repent, and believe the Gospel."
Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and it marks the beginning of Lent. Ashes were used in ancient times, according to the Bible, to express mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent's way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults. An ancient example of one expressing one's penitence is found in Job 42:3-6. Job says to God: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. The other eye wandereth of its own accord. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (vv. 5-6) Other examples are found in several other books of the Bible including, Numbers 19:7, 19:17, Jonah 3:6, Matthew 11:22, Luke 10:13, and Hebrews 9:13. Ezekiel 9 also speaks of a linen-clad messenger marking the forehead of the city inhabitants that have sorrow over the sins of the people. All those without the mark are destroyed.
It marks the start of a forty day period which is apparently an allusion to the separation of Jesus in the desert to fast and pray. During this time he was tempted. While not specifically instituted in the Bible text, the 40 day period of repentance is also analogous to the 40 days during which Moses repented and fasted in response to the making of the Golden calf. (Jews today follow a 40 day period of repenting during the High Holy Days from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur.)
Although we are not as liturgical as the Catholic church or some of the more formal Protestant groups, Lent has spiritual significance and should be commemorated. That is why we do an yearly 40 day focus to sharpen our spiritual sensitivities and strengthen our faith. Sometimes that requires fasting - voluntarily giving up something that is important to you in order to concentrate more on spiritual disciplines. Fasting is a powerful spiritual practice. Equally powerful as denying yourself of something is beginning a new spiritual routine that will aid your growth in the faith.
That is why we are observing the 40 Day Focus this year at FredWes. Our focus for the next 40 Days is to develop more godly relationships, especially in the area of our marriages. The very spiritual principles that strengthen marriages and relationships with strengthen our church fellowship and contribute to its growth.
Our 40 Day Focus will have three focal points: Sunday Morning Messages, Sunday afternoon LIFE Groups and the 40 Day Love Dare. This comprehensive approach will allow you to grow in the context of worship, fellowship and private personal devotion. For us, this begins on Sunday, February 21st. That is the equivalent of our Ash Wednesday.
But today should be a day of reflection and a day of commitment in view of the significance of this period in the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And since the practice of fasting for 40 Days has had spiritual signifcance in the life of our spiritual heroes, why not join them in a spiritual journey toward holiness?