Early Christians would sometimes have ashes sprinkled on their bodies as a public symbol that they needed to repent from sin. According to historians, all Christians began to show their need for repentance by having ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of a cross.
We do the same during Ash Wednesday services today as a reminder that we’re all sinful and stand guilty before God. No matter how good we try to be, no matter how often we go to church or help others or pray, we still can’t save ourselves from our sin.
That’s why God sent Jesus – to be our Savior.
Lent is a time for us to think about this, to acknowledge anew that we’re sinful and mortal. Jesus saved us from certain death and separation from God because of our sin, but it wasn’t without a cost.
He took our place and accepted the punishment for all our sins even though He had none Himself. He knew what was coming – including being shunned, tortured, crucified, and separated from God – and He did it for us anyway.
We’re encouraged to use the weeks of Lent to remind ourselves of what God gave to us in Jesus and what Jesus gave to us in Himself. That can take different forms, depending on who we are and where we are in our faith at that point.
Some people will give up something as a tangible sacrifice to God. Whether it’s fasting, breaking a habit like smoking, or giving up chocolate, the idea is that we’re giving up something we enjoy as a way of showing our commitment to God and our desire to put Him first.
Other people will add something to their life during Lent that is designed to help them grow spiritually. We might commit to having more prayer time, to read through at least one of the Gospels in smaller chunks so we can really meditate on it, or volunteer in the community.
I’ve taken both approaches, depending on the year. And while giving up Diet Coke wasn’t nearly as serious as what some people do, it was a pretty big deal for a college girl who popped the tab on at least four cans of it a day.
The point is that we’re finding a way to mark this season, to think about what Jesus went through in the days and weeks leading to His crucifixion. To think about the gift He was willing to give us, despite what it cost Him during His time here on earth. To thank Him for that gift even though we’re so unworthy of it.
This year I’ll be doing a couple of things, one of which will be posting a Bible verse on social media each day that relates to this season of waiting and preparation. If we haven’t already connected there, I hope you’ll find me wherever you like to hang out and follow along (Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook).
Your turn: I also hope you’ll consider finding a way to observe Lent for yourself and strengthen your relationship with God. If you do, I’d love to know what you choose. Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation.