Lent begins with the liturgy of Ash Wednesday. The ashes are made from the palm branches used in the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday, recalling that triumphant day when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem with great jubilation. Jesus' followers, his disciples and apostles, waving palm branches like banners of praise, singing and proclaiming their undying faith in him, accompanied Jesus through the city gate like a triumphant king, entering to ascend his throne of victory. Then, a few short days later, Jesus’ throne became an executioners cross of death, as his followers abandoned him and fled in fear – their faith and hope turned into ashes.
In our youth we are often accused of thinking we are immortal. It’s a result of the risks we are inclined to take in the pursuit of the excitement of living life on the edge. But on a higher level it is true, we are immortal. This is part of our religious belief. Death in the body is but the next step to a new life beyond this life.
In life, we soon come to realize that the way we live our lives now and the choices we make now, will greatly influence how our lives turn out in the future. This is no less true of our spiritual destiny as well. Lent is meant to be a schooling in this wisdom.
In his wilderness retreat, Jesus is presented with choices which the Deceiver lays out to him. In spite of their apparent appeal and practical usefulness, Jesus sees through the deception. Rather than advance his destiny, they would in fact destroy it.
Lent is a time of schooling in the spiritual art of discernment. Who and what is controlling my life now? Where is this leading me? How strong a hold over me do these influences have? What is the truth that I must embrace in order to break free? Do I have the will and courage to take on this advisory?
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. Mtt 6:21
Liturgy of Ash Wednesday
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Blessing of Ashes
Dear brothers and sisters, let us humbly ask God our Father
that he be pleased to bless with the abundance of his grace
these ashes, which we will put on our heads in penitence.
O God, who desire not the death of sinners,
but their conversion,
mercifully hear our prayers
and in your kindness be pleased to bless + these ashes,
which we intend to receive upon our heads,
that we, who acknowledge we are but ashes
and shall return to dust,
may, through a steadfast observance of Lent,
gain pardon for sins and newness of life
after the likeness of your Risen Son.
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
+ Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
+ Repent, and believe in the gospel.