Far be it from me to tell anybody how or why they ought to celebrate the season of Lent, but it has always baffled me how some people seem to see it as a season of self-denial and deprivation. True, many people choose to observe Lent by "giving something up", usually a luxury or indulgence that they can easily do without. But for me, Lent is a perfect excuse to redirect the time, energy and possibly money I expend on something I have already experienced towards a new experience or discipline. Lent culminates and finds its conclusion not in the Crucifixion, but in the Resurrection; not in sacrifice, but in rebirth. For me, this is the purpose of Lent: to give me an excuse to give up old ways of being to discover new and stimulating ways of being.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and we mark that occasion with the Imposition of Ashes. The meaning and symbolism of this ceremony hearkens back to Old Testament times when people would demonstrate humility, regret, sorrow or penitence by placing ashes on their hear, face or clothing. Moses covered himself with ashes after the incident of the Golden Calf. Job covered himself with ashes when his estate was decimated.
The symbolism of ashes is a question for debate. Perhaps they could be a symbol for you of something in your life that needs to "die", metaphorically: perhaps a behaviour or way of thought that needs to change, perhaps a relationship that needs to be mended. Perhaps ashes could signify, like the Phoenix, something that needs to "come to life" for you: perhaps the next step in your journey, a new behaviour that needs to be developed.
Why or however you choose to observe Lent, my sincere hope is that it is a life-giving season for you.
Click here to download the podcast of my sermon from this Ash Wednesday.