When I was younger, it felt weird to see people going to school or office with imposed cross made of ashes in their forehead. I didn’t seem to be cool and it was meaningless for me. I know it was Ash Wednesday and it is a yearly service where my Roman Catholic friends and other people go to. Then after that, they are longer allowed to eat meat on Fridays until Easter. But what is Ash Wednesday anyway? It was so insignificant. We never celebrated it in our local church. My parents could not even explain to me. So all the while I had this idea in my head that Ash Wednesday is a pagan practice.
I think it was only in 2007 when I first attended an Ash Wednesday service. I was accompanying a friend. It was then when that I fully understand the reason and I gladly submitted myself and had my forehead imposed with cross made of ashes.
“Ash Wednesday emphasizes a dual encounter: we confront our mortality and confess our sin before God within the community of faith. The form and content of the service focus on the dual themes of sin and death in the light of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ” (From United Methodist Book of Worship). The ashes are used as a symbol of our immortality and repentance, and having your forehead imposed with ashes is a sign of participating in the acts of repentance and reconciliation.
If you are wondering where the ashes came from, it is traditional to save the palms during Palm Sunday the previous year, then burn them for the ashes. Other churches, creatively in their services, asked the congregation to write their sins in a piece of paper then brought to the altar to be burned together with the palms.
By the sweat of your face you shall it bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, you are dust, and to dust you shall return. –Genesis 3:19 (NRSV)
The Beginning of the 40-day Journey
Ash Wednesday also marks the 40 days, not counting Sundays, until the Resurrection Sunday or Easter. This 40 days is called the Lenten Season in the Christian Calendar. This is the time for repentance, prayer and reflection. (And sometimes a time when most people are kind, patient, and forgiving.)
Today’s reading on the 40-Day Lenten Journey is Matthew 6:9-15, which is the prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer.
This is really a wonderful prayer to begin this season. Even if it seem to be just one of the memorized prayers in the congregation, The Lord’s Prayer has gained a great significance in my life. Many times when I am distressed, I just pray it slowly and repeatedly until comfort and discernment comes.
Jesus, in this prayer, taught the disciples to pray about practical needs: daily bread, debt forgiveness, and protection from temptation. So when I don’t know what to ask in prayer, I just go on and recite The Lord’s Prayer until words are formed. I deeply assured with Jesus’s words, “…for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Prayer seem to be the easiest spiritual discipline that a Christian could do, but when did you actually prayer?
Let us begin with The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from evil one.
(For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory now and forever.) Amen.