Lent begins in ashes. On Ash Wednesday we are reminded of our mortality and sin. It is not a time for groveling; rather, it is a time for reality, for genuine humility, for repentance and forgiveness and renewed commitment to following the ways of Jesus. Lent is a season of preparation, preparing to Jesus’ passion and death for us and then to Easter.
Lord, who throughout these forty days for us didst fast and pray, teach us with thee to mourn our sins and close by thee to say. The Hymnal 1982, #142
These themes will repeat themselves throughout Lent: journey, pilgrimage, wilderness, preparation, honest reflection, repentance, forgiveness, humility, renewal, following Jesus. Our readings on Ash Wednesday set the tone for the journey of renewal and faith that lies ahead of us for these forty days:
- Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 – The prophet pictures the day of the Lord as a time of judgment and darkness, but he holds out hope of mercy if the people will repent. OR
- Isaiah 58:1-12 – A denunciation of the injustices of those who only act at their religion. There is a promise of the Lord’s favor for those who genuinely repent and care for the needy.
- 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 – Paul urges the new disciples to be reconciled to God in this time of deliverance, and he reminds them of all the hardships he has patiently endured for their sake and for the gospel.
- Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 – Jesus describes genuine charity, prayer and fasting.
“Yet even now,” says God, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.” Joel 2:12-13
Remember, human, that you are dust, and to dust you will return. From the Ash Wednesday liturgy, based on Genesis 3:19.
Come, brothers and sisters, let us consider the dust and ashes of which we were formed. What is the reality of our present life and what shall we become tomorrow? In death where is the poor and where the rich? Where is the slave and the master? They are all ashes. The beauty of countenance has withered, and the strength of youth has been cut down by death. . . . All has withered as the grass of the field and has vanished. Come . . . let us fall on our knees in humble prayer before Christ. “Verses During the Last Kiss: Funeral of the Dead” (Orthodox Liturgy)
Covenant with a faithful God forms the context for this Year B’s Lenten journey. The Hebrew Scriptures offer reminders of God’s promises of life and relationship made to Noah and his family, Abraham and Sarah, and Jeremiah. Christians experience God’s covenant of faithfulness continuing in Jesus – God-with-us – who shares our life and our death.
Lent begins with the black and gray of Ash Wednesday. Lent ends with the red of Good Friday. Along the way the church wears purple, a color long associated with penitence.