I will never forget one particular day while routinely tuning in to catch the evening news, I caught a glimpse of a U.S. Senator who was being interviewed. What wasn’t routine was the black smudge on his forehead that I kept inadvertently trying to wipe off the TV screen. Then it hit me: Today is Ash Wednesday.
In case today catches you a bit by surprise, perhaps this bit of information will spare you an awkward moment with that colleague or person on the street that you might encounter. Tip: Today is Ash Wednedsay. People go to church, and the priest makes the sign of the cross on their forehead–with ashes.
For those of you still feeling a little left out, here are some talking points for you on the significance and traditions of this day:
– The Ashes are made from burned palm fronds (leftovers from last year’s Palm Sunday).
– Today is the first day of Lent.
– It is also known as Day of Ashes: dies cinerum (day of ashes) in the Roman Missal.
– It is the Wednesday after Quinquagesima Sunday (say that three times out loud as fast as you can). What does it mean? Basically, 50 days before Easter!
– Ash Wednesday is 40 days before Good Friday.
– Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation.
– It is the day after Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras).
There. Feeling smarter already? Now, just think of the conversations this information can get you into. Some of you are saying, “Hmmmm, I might pass on that offer, but thanks.”
For you braver types, here’s the deal. In the Bible, Ashes signify mourning. And too, when in angst, people would tear their clothes and put ashes on their head (i.e.:1 Samuel 4:12, Esther 4:1).
Ashes also symbolize how the sinner feels when he stands before and acknowledges the all-just God.
And too, there is a verse in the book of Genesis that reminds us of the shortness of our lives, ”Remember, man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.” (you know, the old “ashes to ashes dust to dust” thing.)
So there you have it. Ash Wednesday brings to remembrance these things:
1. You and I are sinners (but saved by the action of Christ on the cross).
2. God is all powerful, just, and holy (we are not).
3. Life is short. Make the most of it (not just physically, and mentally, but spiritually, too).
So just think. You now have the next 40 days of Lent to ponder these very things and other points of life. But most importantly than that, if you see folks today with a dark smudge on their foreheads (in the shape of a cross), you will at least now hopefully not walk up to them and say, “Hey, you have something on your forehead.”
Just my thoughts,