Today is a special day. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season leading up to Easter called Lent. This is the beginning of a particularly special time for Christians who seek to understand the implications of their faith, “…for the life of the world.” This promises to be a special Lenten season for our immediate and church family as we commit to furthering our understanding of baptism and God’s covenant love. It is sobering to ponder the depth of God’s care for His children, a love that precedes our own rationality and lifts our lives into the mystery of faith, “Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.” It is in this reflective context that my wife and I have chosen Psalm 139 as our prayer for this Lent. This ancient prayer is more like a confession. A confession of the unending and never giving up love that we believe God already has for our three children. It is this light that will follow our children into the rest of their lives; the “hounds of heaven” always on their trail. Our prayer this Lent is that they will always be able to say, “…even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” Indeed, it has already been said.
The beauty of the Lenten season is that it can take on so many devotional forms within different contexts. There are countless variations that can be played within the themes of cross and resurrection. Ash Wednesday serves to set a broad trajectory for the Christian during Lent.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. By the fourth century the Western church determined that the Lenten period of fasting and renewal should correspond to Christ’s forty-day fast (Matt. 4:2), and, by counting forty days back from Easter (excluding Sundays, which remain “Feast” and Resurrection Celebration days), arrived at the Wednesday seven weeks before Easter. At one time Lent was primarily viewed as a period during which converts prepared for baptism on Easter Sunday, but later the season became a general time of penitence and renewal for all Christians. Thus Ash Wednesday became the day that marked the beginning of the Lenten renewal.
The aim of Ash Wednesday worship is threefold: to meditate on our mortality, sinfulness, and need of a savior; to renew our commitment to daily repentance in the Lenten season and in all of life; and to remember with confidence and gratitude that Christ has conquered death and sin. Ash Wednesday worship, then, is filled with gospel truth. It is a witness to the power and beauty of our union with Christ and to the daily dying and rising with Christ that this entails.
— The Worship Sourcebook
This season our family will focus on remembering, “…with confidence and gratitude that Christ has conquered death and sin.” As a daily reminder of Christ’s victory over the darkness we are going to practice a fast from artificial light after sunset. The idea for this discipline came from this blog post. We plan to practice a modified version of this idea. This practice will certainly set this season apart for our whole family, if we can pull it off. My mind is currently unable to conceive of no computer or TV after dark! Another idea that you might want to consider is a Lenten diet designed to reflect the modest diet of those unable to afford the food wealth that we enjoy in the Western world. Chris Seay has just published an excellent book based on this idea called “A Place at the Table”. Find a video introduction here and buy the book here.
Peace to all of you this season, whether or not you consider yourself a practicing Christian.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.a
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain!b
Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!c
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
Christ Church Davis Ash Wednesday Liturgy and Guide for Lent 2012