For the first day of Lent, we are sharing Jeren Rowell’s Ash Wednesday devotional from These Forty Days: A Lenten Devotional. We have also provided the entire reading plan for These Forty Days on the blog so that all The Community blog readers can explore Lent together.
THE BEGINNING OF LENT
Ash Wednesday is a significant way to begin the season of Lent, since it links us back to where this story is headed: the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and then his arrest, trial, suffering, and death. Traditionally the ashes of this day are obtained by burning the dried palm fronds that were used in the celebration of Palm Sunday the previous year. Typically the services of Ash Wednesday mark the beginning of the season of Lent through Scripture reading, songs of the season, and prayer. Many Christians begin a time of special fasting on Ash Wednesday that lasts throughout Lent (except Sundays). This can take many different forms, from giving up some particular food or habit to taking on a new spiritual discipline. Either way, the purpose is to move us to a deeper life of prayer.
In some places Ash Wednesday services include the opportunity to receive the imposition of ashes on the forehead during a service. This is a long tradition in the church that serves a couple of key purposes. One purpose is to remind us of the truth that life is short and we are utterly dependent upon God. The words spoken over us are, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This comes from Genesis 3:19, where God spoke the consequences of sin over Adam and Eve. The ashes also serve as a sign to the world that we are among those who identify with Christ. In this way we bear witness throughout the day wherever we go that we are “crucified with Christ. It is no longer [we] who live, but Christ who lives in [us]” (Gal. 2:20).
BIBLE TEXT: Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
This season of Lent raises for us the idea of paschal spirituality. This is an odd word and may be unfamiliar to us, but it has significance as we seek to begin this journey well. It comes from the Hebrew word pesach, which carries in part the meaning “from death to life.” It has in mind the journey of Jesus, who became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8) and whom God raised from the dead. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the center of our faith. We live as disciples (followers) of Jesus with the mind-set of the apostle Paul when he said, “I die every day” (1 Cor. 15:31). The way of Jesus is marked by a daily death to sin, selfishness, and dishonesty—all that is contrary to Christ.
This is paschal spirituality, the way of Jesus. Author Brennan Manning discusses in his book The Signature of Jesus seven characteristics of this paschal spirituality that could guide us well during this Lenten season. The first characteristic is that paschal spirituality is Christ centered. This may seem obvious, but we must confess how often we are consumed with ourselves. The question that Jesus asked of Peter following the resurrection should pierce our hearts every day, “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15).
The second characteristic is that paschal spirituality is always communal. Our Christian faith is always personal but never private. During this Lenten journey we must ask ourselves, “What is my net influence on the community of faith?”
The third characteristic of paschal spirituality is that it believes in redemption. Christians should be optimistic people. We have not given up on the world, because we know that God is at work in the world by the Holy Spirit to redeem the world and everything in it.
The fourth characteristic of paschal spirituality is that we consider ourselves to be crucified with Christ. We respond to God’s forgiveness with a life fully surrendered to God. As Christians we no longer work to protect our personal rights, but now we fulfill our responsibilities, our service to Christ.
The fifth characteristic of paschal spirituality is that it is joyful and optimistic. Our life in Christ is anchored in hope and always looks forward. We ought to attract people to our faith quite literally by the fun there is in being a Christian.
The sixth characteristic is that paschal spirituality promotes unity without uniformity. Mature Christian faith appreciates the rich variety of personalities who make up the church.
Finally, the seventh characteristic is that paschal spirituality regards persons as free. Therefore, we stop trying to control and manipulate each other. This may be the hardest lesson of all, for sometimes we try to secure our own faith by forcing others to look just like us.
Death and resurrection are not one-time events that occur only at the end of our journey. They are the pattern of our lives day after day.1 “Each time we let go of the past to embrace the future we relive the paschal journey of Jesus in our flesh. Each time we allow our fears or selfishness to die, we break through to new life. Each time we open ourselves to the Spirit so that he can break down the walls of suspicion and bitterness, we come home to ourselves, the community, and the Lord.”2
—Brennan Manning and John Heagle
Father, as we begin this Lenten journey, we pray your watchful care over us as we seek to overcome evil by the power and grace of the Spirit. Through our sacrifices of self, make us more like Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Think prayerfully through each of the seven characteristics of the paschal journey. To what degree are these marks of the way of Jesus evident in your life?
Go now into this holy day in the power of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the Savior who gave himself for us. And may the peace of Christ be with you.