Ash Wednesday 2021

A few years ago I wrote post that became fairly popular, called, Some Thoughts on Lent (pretty clever title, right?), most of what I said in then is still most true, I don’t know how to Lent. My church is trying to help this year, especially in a year in which people are not meeting in person, by sending home a box with everyone that has contents to be used the Ash Wednesday and Good Friday services, as well as devotional/calendar to be used for Lent in general. 

After church on Sunday, our guys group was talking about the Ashes, and a some people stated they wouldn’t be using them. Classic Reformed, ‘it isn’t in the Bible’. I didn’t have many thoughts, and I asked if anyone knew the history of the ashes. No one did, so I decided to look it up. 

The short answer is, ashes were used in the Old Testament as a sign of penitence and mourning. My boy Tertullian believed that confession of sin should be accompanied with ashes and sackcloth. So, clearly, early on the Christians still associated ashes in a similar manner as that of the OT. The basis of Lent is Christ’s 40 Days in the Wilderness in preparation for his ministry, which culminated in his death and then resurrection on Easter. Those who practice Lent engage in 40 days (technically 46) of reflection and repentance leading up to Easter. So, that is it, that is the connection. Looks like Ash Wednesday was really official until the 10th Century for Catholics. Apparently, Orthodox do not do it at all. I had no idea, I kind of always view them as have the same church calendar (even if the days are different) and liturgies. After the Reformation, Lutherans/Anglican didn’t stop. Today other liturgical churches such as Methodist and Presbyterians often hold the service and it appears to be growing in popularity. Other Baptist and non-denominational churches are starting to hold the services. 

I actually like it. Then again, I like history and tradition. This will hurt the heads of the academics and teachers who read this, but the Wikipedia article on Lent is pretty good, if you want more info. Along with ashes, two other things are popular, one is saying ‘from dust you came and to dust you will return’, while imposing the ashes. People seem to like it as a reminder of mortality and their short time on the earth. I think it somewhat detracts from the pentinance part, by trying to make the ashes represent too many things. The other is the reading of Psalm 51, which is David’s repentance after being confronted by the Prophet Nathan. 

Back to the Anglican thing for a minute, Cranmer, who wrote the Book of Common Prayer, banned the ashes, but it (obviously) came back. This somewhat ironic, as the church I attend is non-denominational that loosely follows the BCP. Interestingly, I have never done the ashes or attended an Ash Wednesday service. You can read in my prior Lent post, I grew up Baptist with no church calendar at all, not even Good Friday. Mrs. MMT and I were members of a Presbyterian church that would have like to do Ash Wednesday, but we met in a community center, so it was difficult to get a service going. I’ve never attend my current church’s service, because MRs. MMT is usually the music for it and I would stay home with Sprout. This year, it is only online, it has actually already been recorded (I ran the sound, on a soundboard that isn’t set for streaming output, so, should be interesting), and we are streaming at 3:00, 6:00, and 8:00 tonight; go here if you are interested. 

So, that is a little history of the ashes for Ash Wednesday. I feel like it can be a worthwhile tradition and plan to participate for the first time, tonight. I also found a cool infographic on Twitter that pretty well sums up everything:


Some thoughts on Lent

Growing up Baptist, I think my first exposure to the concept of Lent, in which someone gave up something for the period of time leading up the Easter, came from the movie 40 Days and 40 Nights. That was my senior year in high school and I don’t think I actually knew a catholic until one of my roommates a few years later in college. I guess because of this, I’ve never really ‘got’ Lent.

It was amusing last week as Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, approached. Most of the people in my immediate office are Catholics. This is true now for the first time in the 10 years in which I’ve work there. So, I think there is a bit of Baptists and Beer thing going on (if you go fishing, why should you take two Baptist instead of one? They’ll both watch the other to make sure they don’t drink your beer), in which they are all watching to see who is giving up what and who went to Ash Wednesday Mass. The best part was on Friday, as they are supposed to abstain from meat, one of them had already forgotten and was called out right before he ate a chicken biscuit. This is the same guy who ate steak every night for the week leading up to Lent, because that is what he was giving up.

If you don’t know, Lent is not in the Bible. We, as Christians, are not required to participate, or to fast, or really follow any particular rules about Lent. The concept comes from the Temptation of Christ, when he spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, fasting and preparing for his ministry. As a spiritual exercise, I find it fascinating. That being said, I don’t really understand how, and almost wish that the works and rules based requirements of Catholics were actually Biblical requirements. In a sense, it would be easy to give up something for the sake of giving up something. Or skipping meat on Fridays, just because, though fish is allowed, basically because Aquinas didn’t think it tasted good. Apparently, part of the fasting and abstinence is just to give up something you enjoy.

However, if you are seeking a spiritual discipline, and want a reason for what you are giving up, it becomes more difficult. I feel like I really need a why. It doesn’t work for me to say, I’ll give up pizza, because I like pizza. I guess, ultimately, that is often the point of fasting, but as a Lenten practice, it seems odd. Maybe this is due to wanting to have a counter balance. So, I give up pizza, what am I supposed to do with that? If I just replace it with something that is also good, like burgers, what have I gained. I’ve heard from some who fast from dinner on Fridays and instead spend the time they would be cooking and eating in prayer. That seems interesting. This is why I consider myself to only have had on successful Lent.

It was years ago, and I gave up video games and decided to use the time playing them when I get home from work, to read the Gospels. This did in fact change me. I started reading more, especially studying the Bible and theology, to the point that now I have a blog about book reviews. Also, I never regained the habit of playing video games only a daily basis and actually haven’t played any in a few years, ever since Sprout was a few months old.

In this way, I do think I completed a spiritual exercise. I have up something that was pointless, and began to study the Bible. But I’ve struggled to ever replicate this again. As you start to think about things to give up, you mind if often drawn away from spiritual things. For instance, the only other time I actually gave up something was last year, and I have up alcohol. Seemed like a good idea, but then I lost a few pounds from it, so it kind of became about health; plus I never found something to replace it with, or any kind of ‘why’.

As I talk with others looking to engage in a Lenten abstinence, the same issues seem to come up. People decide to get up earlier in the morning and go to the gym, or give up red meat or sugar, to lose a few points. Those are basically New Year’s resolutions. They are good things, nothing wrong with either of them, but tying them to God seems disingenuous. Likewise, people struggling with alcoholism or lust will give up getting drunk or porn. These are already things you shouldn’t be doing.

Anyway, I guess this is just a long way of saying, I don’t know how to Lent. I’d love to hear from any of my readers as to what you’ve given up and why, either this year or in the past. Finally, any good satire type things to give up are always appreciated, probably my favorite two that I’ve heard is people giving up their Catholicism, or giving up their virginity.