Ash Wednesday: Sackcloth and Ashes

Carolyn’s Online Magazine (COMe)

ASH WEDNESDAY:

SACKCLOTH AND ASHES

Guest Writer: The Rev. Monte W. Holland

NOTE: Links to additional

Ash Wednesday devotions and Lent Studies

at end of this devotion…

Lent 2015 Daily Study:

A Lent Quiz 11 Facts About Lent

Ash Wednesday: Sackcloth and Ashes

Rethink Church Lenten Photos: Week 1

Rethink Church Lenten Photos Week 2

Rethink Church Lenten Photos: Week 3

Rethink Church Lenten Photos Week 4

Rethink Church Lenten Photos Week 5

Rethink Church Lenten Photos Week 6

Rethink Church Lenten Photos: Week 7

100125 DSC05380E2

Today, Ash Wednesday, is a special day in the Christian year whose placement on the calendar is set by Easter Sunday—which always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a forty day period (that doesn’t include Sundays) before Easter. It works out that the forty day period starts on a Wednesday, which is designated Ash Wednesday.

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There is no biblical designation of Ash Wednesday or the forty day period called Lent. Thus, a number of Christian churches do not participate in Ash Wednesday or Lent.

For those of us who maintain the Lenten tradition the forty days offers an opportunity to grow spiritually. Often this involves specific spiritual practices, including the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday and sometimes fasting.

Why are ashes associated with Ash Wednesday?

A number of Old Testament scriptures refer to persons grieving horrible past events or situations by putting on sackcloth and covering themselves with ashes or rolling in ashes.

  •  Job, having been rebuked by God, confesses, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
  • 1When Mordecai heard about the letter, he tore his clothes in sorrow and put on sackcloth. Then he covered his head with ashes and went through the city, crying and weeping. 2But he could go only as far as the palace gate, because no one wearing sackcloth was allowed inside the palace. 3In every province where the king’s orders were read, the Jews cried and mourned, and they went without eating. Many of them even put on sackcloth and sat in ashes. (Esther 4:1,3)
  • He sent me to give them flowers in place of their sorrow, olive oil in place of tears, and joyous praise in place of broken hearts. They will be called “Trees of Justice,” planted by the [Lord] to honor his name. (Isaiah 61:3)
  • So mourn, my people, as though your only child had died. Wear clothes made of sackcloth+ and roll in the ash pile.” (Jeremiah 6:26)
  • They show their sorrow by putting dust on their heads and rolling in ashes;… (Ezekiel 27:30)
  • 4Then, to show my sorrow, I went without eating and dressed in sackcloth+ and sat in ashes. (Daniel 9:3)
  • 19Tamar tore the robe she was wearing and put ashes on her head. Then she covered her face with her hands and cried loudly as she walked away. (2 Samuel 13:19)

In the New Testament, Jesus alludes to the practice:

  • Jesus chastises a community for not repenting in sackcloth and ashes: “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21)
Palm Sunday 2001 at Wesley United Methodist Church in Connellsville, PA

Palm Sunday 2001 at Wesley United Methodist Church in Connellsville, PA

On Ash Wednesday ashes, often made by burning palm fronds from the previous Palm Sunday celebration and mixing them with olive oil to make a sticky paste, are imposed on persons (often on the forehead in the sign of a cross). This is a sign of repentance and a symbol of the fact that our bodies are dust and shall return to dust. Words to this effect are usually uttered by the person imposing the ashes.

For this one day, Ash Wednesday, we carry the symbol of the forty day journey of repentance and spiritual renewal we are entering.

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Lent is a time for special fasts and spiritual journeys, mostly away from the public eye.

We personally draw close to God in whatever ways help us most. Perhaps we choose not eat at certain times, or eat only certain foods, but when we do we are to do it with little fanfare.

In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus calls us to keep our fasts secret:

  •  16When you go without eating, don’t try to look gloomy as those show-offs do when they go without eating. I can assure you that they already have their reward. 17 Instead, comb your hair and wash your face. 18Then others won’t know you are going without eating. But your Father sees what is done in private, and he will reward you.

Our journey of repentance and renewal during Lent is interrupted by weekly celebrations of mini-Easters we keep throughout the year on Sunday.

Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

Ash Wednesday thus is a very visible day of the beginning of a spiritual journey that is relatively invisible for the remaining thirty-nine days. Be willing to let people know that the journey is beginning and that you intend to be a part of it.

Moon rising over Chestnut Ridge in Latrobe, PA

Moon rising over Chestnut Ridge in Latrobe, PA

Just one more note about Lent—it is a period that is relatively free of the non-religious competition that other holy days and seasons experience. For example, Mardi Gras occurs just before Lent, and officially ends as Ash Wednesday arrives. (Note that Mardi Gras is also set by the date of Easter.)

Read more devotions in the regular Devotions Category and/or Easter/Holy Week Devotions Category

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Other Ash Wednesday devotions

(on CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS,

the predecessor to Carolyn’s Online Magazine {COMe}

Three Lent Studies…Begin Ash Wednesday 2/13/2013

Ash Wednesday: Intro to Lenten Study on the Seven Deadly Sins

Ashes to Ashes: A Devotion for Ash Wednesday

NOTE: Lent Studies:

Post List for the Lenten Study: The Seven Deadly Sins

Post List for A Daily Online Lenten Study

and/or one 27-day study:

26 Devotions Based on the Alphabet: Introduction

IMAGE SOURCE

Hill of Crosses: ATTRIBUTION  “Kryžių kalnas (Góra Krzyży)” by Pudelek (Marcin Szala) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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About carolyncholland

In several if my nine lives I have been a medical lab technician and a human service worker specializing in child day care, adoptions and family abuse. Currently I am a photo/journalist/writer working on a novel and a short story. My general writings can be viewed at www.carolyncholland.wordpress.com. My novel site is www.intertwinedlove.wordpress.com.
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19 Responses to Ash Wednesday: Sackcloth and Ashes

  1. Tom Beck says:

    Thank you for the reminder that today was Ash Wednesday. I reposted an Ash Wednesday story on my blog spot that occurred at the hospital where I worked before retiring

    Like

  2. Vaj Latham says:

    Carolyn and Monte, you are very special pe
    Pole. Praise God for you. Thank you Monte for your post on Ash Wednesday wand lent. I really expected daily posting! Thankful though for what you submitted. TGWSIA! Vaj

    Like

  3. Grace ( & Fred) Wells says:

    My Cumberland Presbyterian Church in IN observed Lent with a prayer breakfast on Wed Mornings and special services Wed nights. …….. In my hometown of Russellville, AL, the ministerial association had a non denominational Lent early morning service at the 1st Methodist Church with a coffee/donut fellowship afterwards……..Fred & I visit a Missouri Synod Lutheran church in Hsv during Lent for the evening supper and service.

    Like

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