Today is dies cinerum (day of ashes), which we now refer to as Ash Wednesday. It is the first day of a forty-day Lenten season (also known as Lent) leading up to Easter Sunday. Typically, this is known as a somber tradition in which individuals have ashes placed upon their head as a sign of repentance of sins. As Christians, we know there is nothing magical with the ashes themselves — rather, they are a representation of a decision we have made in our hearts to become pure before the Lord.
Something we ought to focus on is how this is relevant in light of the beautiful cross! If you choose to fast during Lent, it should be based on a deep desire to understand the suffering of Christ, and what He has done for us to atone for our sins once and for all. Christ did what He did to make us free from the bondage of sin and death, and pure adopted sons and daughters. He gave us an inheritance we could never merit on our own. The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, foretold of the amazing new covenant in Isaiah 58:5-7:
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Let us not lose sight of the “kind of fast” we are called to!
As you begin your fast, here is a Lenten Prayer by Henri Nouwen from his book, The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey. It’s a genuine prayer, not with fancy words, but a real plea for grace from God during this Lenten season. Whatever it is that you are giving up in order to make more space for Him, we pray that you will find strength and hope!
A Lenten Prayer
The Lenten season begins. It is a time to be with you, Lord, in a special way, a time to pray, to fast, and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and to the final victory over death.
I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.
I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are not times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.
Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place. Give me the strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life that you have prepared for me. Amen.