Scott Gunn: Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent — Here’s why it’s important


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Scott Gunn: Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent -- Here's why it's important

Scott Gunn: Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent — Here’s why it’s important

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This Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent for many Christians around the world. The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday.

Lent continues for forty days, not including Sundays, as we prepare our hearts for Easter joy. But first, on Ash Wednesday, we get a sober warning and a solemn invitation.

The name Ash Wednesday comes from the tradition of marking people’s foreheads with ashes in the shape of a cross. The ashes are a sign of our mortality, and they are given with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

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At first, it might seem depressing to contemplate our inevitable death. But Ash Wednesday is just the opposite. Today reminds us that our earthly life is very short, but it is a gift from God. We are meant to use this gift well. In that way, Ash Wednesday is hopeful, encouraging, and inviting.

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Ash Wednesday, and the whole season of Lent, invites us to turn away from what doesn’t matter and turn toward what does matter. As Christians, that means we recommit to following Jesus and to sharing his love with the world.

Lent begins with an invitation. In the Episcopal Church, the invitation tells us how to observe a holy Lent. We do this “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

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Self-examination and repentance are counter-cultural. It’s much easier to go through life blaming everyone else and talking about how wrong they are for whatever they did. But Lent invites me to think about the ways I have fallen short, to say I’m sorry. Lent invites me to try again.

Lent is a time for prayer and fasting. Prayer is pretty common, and most of us know what it is, and we have at least a vague idea of how to go about talking to God this way.

Ash Wednesday, and the whole season of Lent, invites us to turn away from what doesn’t matter and turn toward what does matter.

But fasting is much less common. Again, fasting is counter-cultural. In a culture that tells us our worth comes from what we have, we are always urged to acquire and to consume more and more. Fasting means we cut back on the most vital of activities, eating. We might avoid food altogether, or we might severely limit the kinds of foods we eat.

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Fasting creates a void of sorts in us. Our hunger reminds us of what we are missing. The awareness of what is missing reminds us that we survive only by God’s steady provision for us. And in this fasting, we are also reminded of suffering — of Christ’s suffering for us and of those who suffer daily due to poverty. Fasting reminds us that the world isn’t about us. Amidst the glitter of this age, fasting teaches us we all need the basic stuff of life, and we all need God.

Self-denial is closely related to fasting, but it invites us to deny ourselves other material goods or pleasures. People might deny themselves movies, for example. It’s not just to take on suffering, but rather to remind us always of what is important. If movies are distracting us from loving God and loving our neighbors, then denying them helps us focus on what matters. We are also reminded that we don’t need movies to thrive.

Lent invites me to think about the ways I have fallen short, to say I’m sorry. Lent invites me to try again.

And, finally, we get to my favorite part of the Lenten invitation. We are invited to read and meditate on God’s holy word. Reading the Bible reminds us of God’s vast love for us. From the moment of creation until the end of time, the Bible tells the story of how God desires our redemption.

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When we read and meditate on God’s word, we are reminded of where we fit into this love story. In a world that values short-term thinking, the scriptures remind us to think eternally. In a world that tells us to give up when it gets tough, the scriptures remind us that God never gives up on us and we shouldn’t give up on God. In a world that magnifies fear, the scriptures tell us to be fearless. In a world that tells us to look after ourselves, the scriptures remind us to look after others as we seek God.

This is what Lent is all about. It is an adjustment to our thinking, a reminder of what matters and what does not matter as much. Lent invites us to realize that it’s not all about us, and we don’t have to be our own saviors. Thanks to be God.

Every spring, I look forward to this holy season, a season in which I remember that God’s love for me is bigger than I can imagine. In this season I remember that I don’t have to be the savior. That job is taken.

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Two thousand years ago, Jesus showed us perfect love, in his life, in his death, and in his resurrection. This Lent I want to try to see that perfect love anew, so that I might share it with a world in need of hope, mercy, and grace.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Remember God’s grace, and by grace alone do we all live. Remember.

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110 shares, 91 points