Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the period immediately preceding Easter that is meant to recall the 40 days Jesus wandered in the desert, fasting, during which time he was tempted by the devil/Satan/tempter (name varies among the Gospels). The most famous quote from these Scripture verses is “man shall not live by bread alone” (King James translation). Knowing Jesus is hungry, this tempter suggests that if Jesus is the Son of God he should turn the stones into bread. Jesus responds by quoting in part from Deuteronomy 8:3, “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”
For centuries, the church has focused on the deprivation aspects of Christ’s desert journey. Lent has become a period of giving up some delectable or essential-feeling treat — candy, coffee, meat, TV, alcohol, etc. There is a growing trend, however, to instead take something up that deepens your connection to God. It may be a commitment to pray once a day, or volunteer in a homeless shelter, or cut back on spending so you can give more to people in need.
Jesus went into the desert after being baptized by John and when he came out of the desert, he began his public ministry.
We all have desert journeys in our life. Times when hardship, despair, loneliness, or some other sorrow or trouble seem to envelop our soul. Many of us may be in some sort of a desert journey right now.
Instead of trying to replicate the desert, I would like to encourage you to embrace the Spirit that brought Jesus to and through that journey; to find the angels that were said to minister to him during this time; to use this opportunity to work up to the great gift and deep joy of the Easter promise — new, restored life.
Ash Wednesday begins our journey. The ashes recall the basic truth about our corporeal existence — no one gets out of it alive. Traditionally, focusing on our mortality could be seen as one big downer.
Having so recently been with my mom in her passing, though, I am reminded of the fragility of our body-life but also of the great power that contemplating mortality has to bring to the fore the most important aspects of life. Work, school, difficulties in relationships, even time itself can all blur into the background as love, charity and presence in the moment all become one’s primary focus. These were the great theme’s of Christ’s message. By remembering God, we remember that these are the important things in life. At its best, the contemplation of our mortality reminds us to realign our priorities, continually.
God did not create us to die, though we will. God created us that we should love one another, and that we may have life, and have it abundantly.
The invitation of the ashes is to remember that we are not alone on our desert journeys, and that God has created us to love and to live this day.
In God’s peace,
Footnote: If you are counting the days on your calendar, Lent does not include Sundays. So Easter is 46 days away, not 40.