Wednesday Feature: Ash Wednesday and the Start of Lent

Happy Hump Day! Today is the start of the holiest of holiday seasons for Christians, the beginning of Lent leading up to Easter. Yesterday, known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday for some, was the last day prior to the commencement of the six-week period of repentance and abstinence.

Ash Wednesday is celebrated by Christians worldwide, typically as a day of prayer and fasting. The fasting is often a removal of meat from the diet, starting on Ash Wednesday and continuing on every Friday until Easter. As it is the first day of Lent, many Christians begin Ash Wednesday by marking a Lenten calendar, praying a daily devotional, and making a sacrifice of some sort that encompasses not doing something or not eating or drinking something until Easter (e.g., not drinking alcohol, not eating sweets, not using social media, etc.).

Ash Wednesday got its name from and tradition in the early Christian Church in Rome. Penitents and sinners would undergo an event of public penance. They were sprinkled with ashes and robed in a sackcloth until reconciliation (forgiveness) in church on Maundy Thursday (day before Good Friday). The practice faded by the 10th Century, where the start of Lent was marked by a cross drawn from ashes and oil on forehead of Christian observers. The ashes traditionally came from burning palms used on Palm Sunday.

In my theological tradition, the celebration of Lent and Ash Wednesday is very much embodied in the Easter story of the Road to Emmaus, in Luke, when people walked and talked with Jesus and recognized the living Christ standing, striding alongside, or pausing to share supper across the table. It is about humility and acts of kindness and less about abstinence and more about sharing abundance. The significance is best seen in the events of Maundy Thursday where Jesus washes the feet of his followers and celebrates the Last Supper.  I’ve always found that the Lord’s table is a good place to start to demonstrate kindness, humility, and to share fellowship. I’ll trade my restraint for certain things into gifts for others less fortunate or for those that need a table of refreshment and renewal.

Today is also Valentine’s Day, so we get a Christian two-fer, sort of. Valentine’s Day is a much lesser day of theological importance than Ash Wednesday. Its roots emanate from the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. He ordered the forbiddance of marriage between young men and women. Valentine, a priest, realized the injustice of the decree, disobeyed the Emperor and continued to perform marriages in secret. When Valentine’s marriages were discovered, Claudius ordered him put to death. Others insist that it was Saint Valentine of Terni, a bishop, who was the true namesake of the holiday. He also was beheaded by Claudius II outside Rome. More on Valentine’s Day is available here:

So Happy Hump Day! I will celebrate both holidays as both reflect a very, very special meaning to me. A reason to be thankful and to begin the renewal that is the hallmark of the Lenten journey and the celebration of Easter. Blessings!

Leave a Comment