Growing up in a Southern Baptist church in rural Oklahoma, I’d never heard of, let alone observed, an Ash Wednesday service. When I did finally hear about this special day set aside to observe the beginning of the Lent season, it was always under the umbrella of the Catholic faith, which as a good little Baptist boy meant I had to turn my nose up at it and pretend it was just another one of “their” silly rituals. Turns out, this ol’ Baptist boy was wrong.
Ash Wednesday represents a commencement, a beginning, or for football fans, a kickoff. Think about it- the two football teams could just go flip a coin, decide who gets the ball first and start taking snaps from the 50 yard line; but where’s the fun in that? Instead, there is grand kick off, the ball soaring through the air, charging onlookers with unbridled excitement and anticipation before and it lands in the arms of some poor soul. But that kickoff represents the beginning of a grand event (if you’re a fan), and Ash Wednesday is likewise the kickoff to a grand, albeit sobering, event, the Lent season.
Lent is a time for Christ followers (Christians) to look inwardly and identify some of the regular habits that bring about sin or hinder growth as a Christian and turn from those things. That may mean abstaining from eating a particular food (fasting), abstaining from particular hobbies or past-times to make room for prayer, or even taking up habits that weren’t a part of daily life, like extended study of scripture, or meditation on the person and works of Jesus. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and leading up to Easter Sunday, we have 40 days (excluding Sundays) to really tune in to what the Christian faith is all about, faith and repentance.
Ash Wednesday is a glorious kickoff to a season of faith and repentance; and Catholics aren’t the only ones who are called to embrace that. We stinky ol’ Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc., etc., are commanded to shed the desires of the flesh and put on Christ (Rom. 13:14). So let’s do that. Let’s embrace this kickoff by coming together and grieving the fact that the God-man, Jesus, had to be slaughtered on the cross to purchase our forgiveness. But let’s likewise be filled with unbridled excitement and anticipation as we prepare to celebrate that moment 2,000 years ago, when the stone obediently rolled away from the mouth of the tomb to reveal the risen and triumphant Christ. “Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55)