On March 1, millions of Christians around the world will together observe Ash Wednesday. But what is the meaning of Ash Wednesday? And why has Sojourn elected to incorporate this rhythm into our church calendar?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a forty-day season leading up to Easter Sunday. Traditionally, this season (excluding Sundays, which are always feast days) mirrors the forty days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness prior to His temptation (Matthew 4:1-11). Accordingly, Lent is a time for fasting, prayer, and reflection upon three things:  (1) our mortality, (2) our sin, and (3) our hope in the gospel.

Sadly, this tradition has occasionally been reduced to another empty ritual, another way in which Christians are known more for their strict morality than their message. But we do not fast, pray, and reflect simply for the sake of tradition, much less in hopes that tradition will make us righteous. In fact, we follow these helpful traditions to remind ourselves that we have been made righteous through the perfect work of Christ on our behalf.

Apart from Him, we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). We freely acknowledge these trespasses and sins because we believe it makes the grace of God all the more glorious. After all, He has conquered all our sin! Even so, the Bible tells us that we are dust and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19, Ecclesiastes 3:20). The curse proclaimed against Adam is a curse we all inherit. Death has come through sin, and none of us will get out of this world alive. Thus, on Ash Wednesday, we declare this reality through the imposition of ash on our foreheads. Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for us to be honest with ourselves and corporately lament the lingering presence of sin and death.

So think of Lent as a season of anticipation. Through the purposeful observance of a heavy season of repentance, our joy in Christ will be magnified on Easter morning! Over the next few weeks, consider committing to the following:

Pray regularly for spiritual growth and the strength to combat sin and rest in grace. Pray for your brothers and sisters in the faith, your church leaders, your neighbors, and your neighborhood.

Reflect regularly upon your own sinfulness and the unimpeachable holiness of God. As the chasm between your sinfulness and God’s holiness grows, reflect upon the measure of God’s kindness towards you in Christ.

Fast regularly from something. Typically, a fast involves periodically abstaining from food or drink, but you’re free to choose something else. Fasting helps us to focus on God, who provides lasting satisfaction for all our longings.

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