A Christian's basic guide to Ash Wednesday and Lenten Season

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Article By Amara Thomas // EEW Magazine // Lenten Season

I remember the day I totally embarrassed myself when I told a woman, “You have something on your forehead,” and offered her a tissue to get it off. I didn’t know why she looked offended until other kind strangers educated me.

I didn’t realize that black smudge was a reflection of her faith that marked Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lenten Season.

What is Lent? It commemorates Jesus’ 40-day period of fasting and temptation in the wilderness before He began His public ministry several years before He was crucified. 

On Ash Wednesday, some Christians – though not all – mark their foreheads with ash as a symbol of sorrow and mourning over their sin. Often Job 42:5-6 is used to express this of type mourning. This scripture says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

How is this ash created? Well, clergy worldwide burn palm from the previous year’s Palm Sunday services to create ash which is then rubbed across people’s foreheads in the shape of a cross.

If you, like me, didn’t know that, don’t feel bad about it. There is no hard and fast rule in some obscure Christian handbook that says you’re supposed to know that. Just consider yourself informed. And if, by chance, you’re wondering whether or not you need to celebrate Lenten Season in order to be a “good Christian” so-to-speak, the answer is no.

First off, I grew up Pentecostal and the pastor at our small church never mentioned Lenten Season. I felt like a complete outcast when I relocated to another state and my new faith community observed it. Feelings of condemnation washed over me. Thankfully, my pastor and faith community affirmed me and assured me that not knowing about Lent – and not celebrating Lent for that matter – does not mean you don’t love God or that you’re a lousy Christian.

In fact, every Christian that is aware of this sacred period doesn’t choose to celebrate Lent because there is no scriptural mandate. Therefore, you don't technically need to observe Lent to be a Christian.

Not knowing about Lent – and not celebrating Lent for that matter – does not mean you don’t love God or that you’re a lousy Christian.

Nonetheless, more than a billion Believers around the world from various theological persuasions do observe it as a way of focusing their thoughts on Jesus Christ, and that should always be respected.

Although Lent is actually 46 days, Sundays are not included in the times of observance, so it is counted as 40 days. The exclusion of Sundays is because they are viewed as a time of joy and celebration, and are not prescribed as days of fasting and abstinence.

During this 40-day preparation leading up to Resurrection Sunday, Believers use it as a time of self-denial and self-examination. Through prayer, fasting, worship and meditation on God’s word, they get spiritually focused.

Observers of Lent usually give up certain indulgences like meat, soda, decadent desserts and other favorite foods – even social media. Also, great effort is put toward growing in faith, getting rid of bad habits, and killing off negative attributes that hinder spiritual growth.

Basically, in a nutshell, Lenten Season is about sacrifice and consecration. So if you do elect to participate in this 40-day period of consecration, make sure you’re not doing it out of a legalistic compulsion. It is a personal decision and not an obligation.

When it comes down to it, anything that will enhance your walk with the Savior and draw you into sweet communion with the Lord can’t be a bad thing.