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(A Theological Reflection on Ash Wednesday and Lent)

Lent is one of the important seasons on the Christian calendar. It is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice, and good works in preparation for the celebration of Easter. The word Lent is derived from the Anglo-Saxon (English German)words ‘lencten’, meaning “Spring,” and ‘lenctentid’, which literally means not only “Springtide” but also was the word for “March,” the month in which the majority of Lent falls. Lent is a period of 40 days preceding Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection of Christ.

The Church had settled on 40 days because the number “40” had always had special spiritual significance regarding preparation in the past. On Mount Sinai, preparing to receive the Ten Commandments, “Moses stayed there with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights, without eating any food or drinking any water” (Ex. 34:28). Elijah also walked “40 days and 40 nights” to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of the Lord. (I Kgs 19:8). Most importantly, Jesus Himself fasted and prayed for “40 days and 40 nights” in the desert before He began His public ministry (Mt 4:2). Due to the above, the Church settled on a period of 40 days of Lent in preparation for the resurrection of the Lord.

When the early Church had agreed on a period of 40 days of Lent, the next development concerned how much fasting was to be done. In Jerusalem, for instance, people fasted for 40 days, Monday through Friday, but not on Saturday or Sunday, thereby making Lent last for eight weeks. In Rome and in the West, people fasted from Monday through Saturday, thereby making Lent last for six weeks.

Eventually, the early Church settled on Monday to Saturday. There was no fasting on Sunday. Because of that, Ash Wednesday was instituted to begin Lent. So Lent spans from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.

The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday. It is a fast day, a day of mourning for our sin and the sin of all humanity before God, recognition of our mortality saved for the grace of God, and a request that the Lord remember our creation and breathe new life into our burned-out, dusty lives once more. Isaiah 58:1-12 is one of the Old Testament readings that should guide us on Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent.

Today, Ash Wednesday is a universal fast day in the Catholic Church. Many Western Protestant churches including Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and United Methodists also observe Ash Wednesday.

Some churches believe that Lent places too much emphasis on sin, guilt, and wrongdoing and would prefer to do away with what they consider to be such outdated talk. Due to this, they ignore Ash Wednesday and Lent even though they celebrate Christmas and Easter. Churches that have been influenced by the Radical Reformation, including Baptists, Pentecostals, and some other churches, have never observed Lent, probably because it is a “tradition” of the Church. However, the idea of Lent, emulating our Lord’s 40 days in the wilderness is certainly a Bible-based tradition.

Lent should be a time of ‘spiritual wretchedness’. The reality is that Jesus’ life was full of poverty, simplicity, and sacrifice. We focus more on this during Lent.

During Lent, usually, the decorations in the chapel are removed, the altar is unkempt and the paraments are taken off. The focus is simplicity.

The ashes serve a dual purpose. First, as implied above, we are reminded of our mortality and humanity as we begin the Lenten Fast. Second, the ashes are a Biblical symbol of repentance, sorrow, and humility. There are many cases in the Scriptures of wearing ashes as a sign of penitence, often while wearing sackcloth. In 2 Samuel 13:19, Tamar puts on ashes and tears her clothes as a sign of sadness and repentance. In Esther 4:1-3, after learning of the king’s decree to kill all Jews, Mordecai tears his garments and puts on sackcloth and ashes. His fellow Jews do the same thing, as well as beginning to fast. The prophet Jeremiah (6:26) urges his readers to “gird on sackcloth and roll in ashes.”

The palm branches for a Palm Sunday are preserved and burnt into ashes to be used on Ash Wednesday. The ash is dedicated and mixed with water or oil and imposed on the forehead of believers.

The focus of Lent is: to repent of sin, to renew our faith, and to prepare to celebrate joyfully the mysteries of our salvation. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial.

The forty days of Lent are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities and by other acts of penance. During this time, we abstain from worldly things and spend a lot of time with God. Instead of lit of amusement, we glue ourselves to the Bible and learn new things. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigor during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour).

When you fast during these 40 days, all that you would have eaten or spent or even more should be used for alms. We remember the poor, orphans, prisoners, and needy people who will need such help from us. We must give to charity. Remember again that our fasting should not be like how the Pharisees did theirs. During this time, we try to give up an action considered to be a vice, add something that is considered to be able to bring us closer to God.

Therefore, at the beginning of Lent, we are reminded that our possessions, our empires, our projects, our families, and every other thing we have and including our lives do not last forever. “You are dust, and to dust, you shall return” (Genesis 3:19); these words are pronounced when imposing ashes of the foreheads of believers. Remember again we are dust and nothing lasts forever.

Lent should draw us closer to God even while we prepare to celebrate Easter.

It is a time of journeying with the Lord to Golgotha. We remember the pain in the work of Jesus and follow Him through till He resurrects. Those who die with Him will resurrect with Him.

The liturgical color for Ash Wednesday is ash and the rest of Lent except Palm Sunday and Good Friday is Purple.

Let not the period of Lent be an outward profession alone. Let’s from our heart spend time with God through His word. In this period, resolve to pray more and read more of your Bible. May God make this season a memorable one as you meet Him.

Remember all that we are saying is that we should acknowledge our sinful nature, repent of sins and in humility ask for forgiveness remembering that we are nothing. To make the season a success, forgive your enemies and pray for them as well. Do not forget to give alms as well. It is the fasting God prefers.

Rev. Bright Mawuena Nfodzo
E.P. Church, Ghana

Comments (4)

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Edem Q. Ameglah

March 2, 2022

God bless you Rev for helping us to understand as we draw closer to God to have or maintain our relationship with Him.

James Kaeme Kwame Agbenorku

March 2, 2022

Powerful one.
Rev. God bless you for the enlightenment.


March 2, 2022

Very insightful.

God bless you

Kossoh Dziedzorm

March 3, 2022

Thanks Rev for this wonderful message