Four days ago the Christian season of Lent began. A good part of the planet, especially in our increasingly secularized America, hardly gave it a thought. American television stations still use it as a time-filling story each year, along with sweet tooth-inducing features about fastnacts that are all the rage on Fat Tuesday. Or people noticed the day when they noticed someone with a smudge of charcoal in the shape of a cross adorning their foreheads.
You probably should know that Ash Wednesday and Lent do not appear in the Bible. Ash Wednesday, or dies cinerum, the day of ashes, was first described by medieval writers around the seventh or eighth century A.D. It has, however , become a rich observance for Christians (including this one) who observe it.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a season of reflection, repentance and renewal. For me personally, these passages speak to both the purpose and objective,
" If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." - 2 Chronicles 7.14
"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." -James 4.8-10
"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me." - Psalm 51.7-17
Most of us and not just Christians live an unreflective life. We are busy, distracted, doing our days by triage instead with intentionality. We also live in a world where moral values seem to be all too vague or subjective, and what we have is constantly slipping and eroding under the daily onslaught of a culture is amoral at best and truth is perceived as what is good for me and my friends, not by what is undeniably true.
Those of who are committed to following Jesus Christ and developing a Christ-like character are not immune to these temptations nor perfect in our resisting that which is eternal by accepting that which is convenient, And after a while a subtle pride manifests itself as we retreat all too subtly to Adam's sin--thinking we can run our own lives "thank you, very much.:"
That's why we observe Lent. To build into our annual rhythm a time to reflect on the reality in which we have been living, repent of what we have allowed to go wrong, and then be renewed by the new mind that God provides.