Today is Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of Lent, a time of repentance, soul-introspection and self-abnegation leading up to Easter. (Visit an Ash Wednesday service and you’ll have the sign of the cross smeared on your forehead in ashes. Those ashes are traditionally made from the dried out palm fronds used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday service. This provides a sobering reminder of the fickle nature of the human heart for the very palms that welcomed Jesus evaporated within a week to the cry of “Crucify him!” The ashes also symbolize the tenuous nature of human life: ashes to ashes and dust to dust….)
Sadly Ash Wednesday often passes unnoticed by evangelical Christians who have impoverished themselves by setting aside the richness of the liturgical calendar for a “just me and my Bible” spirituality. They miss this season to their detriment. Traditionally on Ash Wednesay Christians make a commitment to deny themselves in certain respects for the forty days of Lent. Some years ago a friend of mine vowed not to listen to Led Zeppelin for Lent. And for him that was quite a denial. Since I don’t find it a great strain to go for extended periods of time without hearing Robert Plant’s shrill howl, that is probably not an effective form of Lenten observance for me. So what is? This year I have decided to fast from all food for one day a week. It is a modest observance to be sure, but at least I have a real good chance of maintaining it. And it is also fitting. In a world where persons are defined as consumers fasting is, as Margaret Visser has observed, the ultimate subversive countercultural activity. And so fast I shall.
What will your observance be this Lent? As you ponder that possibility remember, unlike a New Years vow you only need to keep your Lenten commitment for forty days.