Ash Wednesday

February 10, 2016
by Saranne Penberthy

Many of us grew up in religious traditions that did not participate in Ash Wednesday services. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the forty days of Lent. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, and other traditions held Ash Wednesday services many years before some Presbyterians began the custom.

In the Bible, ashes are mentioned several times as a sign of mourning, mortality, and repentance. For example, in the book of Esther, King Xerxes of Persia decreed the death of all the Jewish people in the Persian Empire:

Esther 4:1 – When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. (NIV)

After the series of disasters that happened to Job, Job 2:8 tells us that he sat among the ashes. Tamar and Daniel also used ashes as a sign of mourning and repentance.

The use of ashes to denote mourning and repentance continued through the years. Eventually, the use of ashes was adapted to mark the beginning of Lent. Receiving the ashes reminds us to repent humbly before God, and encourages us to renew the promises of baptism and to live out the kingdom of God now as we look forward to its fulfillment in heaven.

Ash Wednesday itself is only part of the picture of Lent. It is the beginning of a special opportunity to spend forty days examining our own lives, as we consider the cross and the sacrifice our Lord made for us — a sacrifice unequal to any in the world. The challenge for us is to make the forty days of Lent a time that brings us closer to the Lord. To help accomplish this purpose, I share a list of forty things which I came across on the Internet, offering them in a spirit of freedom as ideas one might try during Lent as expressions of faith:

  • Try to understand another's point of view
  • Make someone laugh
  • Praise someone honestly
  • Say, "I'm sorry" and mean it
  • Act like Jesus
  • Clean up an eyesore in your neighborhood
  • Respond the first time someone calls you
  • Send a crocus to someone from whom you are estranged
  • Ask God to do what is best for the person you dislike most
  • Help someone realize his or her self-worth
  • Cement a friendship
  • Try not to waste anything for one whole day
  • Call someone who is lonely
  • Drive patiently today
  • Resist trying to be the centre of attention
  • Be a shoulder to cry on
  • Expand your horizons — go to a lecture, read a book, see a play
  • Be patient with others
  • Refuse to gossip
  • Refuse to whine
  • Readily forgive anyone who hurts you
  • Surprise yourself
  • Make someone else the centre of attention
  • If you love someone, say so
  • Thank God for the gift of life
  • Pray for a friend
  • Pray for an enemy
  • Start something good
  • Visit a shut-in
  • Give away all your "extras"
  • Resist judging coworkers
  • Examine your conscience
  • Stop a label or stereotype in your workplace
  • Refuse to judge or categorize others
  • Be a sign of hope for someone who is depressed
  • Spend some silent time alone
  • Be a peacemaker at work or school
  • Recognize the truth about yourself — no matter how good it is
  • Participate actively in Holy Week worship
  • Sing a hymn or chorus

Prayer: Today and every day, Lord, we need to be reminded of the great sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to be mindful in every hour of every day of the gift of eternal life which You have given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In His name, we pray. Amen.

About the author:

Saranne Penberthy <saranne.penberthy@gmail.com>
Clifton, Texas, USA

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1 Comment

  • PresbyCan Feedback says:

    Great suggestions Saranne. Thanks for sharing.


    Saranne, Thank you for those suggestions and this devotional reminder. Blessings.


    I really liked this devotional today; it gave me a lot to think about as we begin Lent.


    Thanks for the great message and the wonderful list.
    I will treasure the list (great reminders) and read it every day.


    WOW!
    What a practical, Christ-like list!
    Thank you.


    Dear Saranne,
    Thanks very much for your reflection. I found it very helpful and timely. May God bless you.
    (Ghana)


    Good morning Saranne, Thank you for sending that timely meditation on Lent. It was helpful and I liked the other 40 ideas you sent.
    God bless!


    Thank you very much, Saranne, for today’s Devotional that comes, at least for me, with content of substance. I can add not a word.
    May our Lord continue to bless you real good.


    Dear Saranne,
    Thank you for this thoughtful devotional to begin the Lenten season. You listed a lot of good ideas.
    God bless you.
    Please keep writing!
    Blessings.


    Thank you for this devotional. I will print this list. I know Lent isn’t just giving up things and your list is awesome and helpful. I am from an Anglican Mission church and will attend Ash Wednesday worship at noon.
    Thank you for sharing.


    Wow, Saranne! That’s a great list of ways to behave.
    May God, by the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ who indwells all who believe that HE “gave himself for our sins… that we “might become the righteousness of God,” empower us to live in his righteousness.
    I pray that God will continue to bless you in Himself.


    Dear Saranne,
    Thank you for the good ideas to do during lent. I was not brought up in the tradition of following Lent, so these will help me to get up-to-speed on the meaningful ways to participate in this meaningful season. God bless you.
    (California)


    Dear Saranne,
    I grew up in a Presbyterian home since I was born almost 80 years ago. I never heard about the custom of Wednesday ashes in my church. I always knew that it was a Roman Catholic custom after the Carnival time, as a sign of repentance. By the way I’m member of a Presbyterian Church in founded by an American Missionary.
    (Brazil)


    Hi Saranne,
    Even though Lent is not observed in all denominations, I see nothing wrong with setting aside an extended period of time for a personal reflection on the Lord; especially during the weeks leading up to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bottom line – It glorifies God!
    As always, may God continue to bless you and your writing.

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