Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: the early Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection. A forty-day period of fasting before Easter was first described In AD 325, in conjunction with a gathering of Church leaders in Nicaea (the place that the Nicene Creed is named after). This forty-day period of fasting came to be known by the Latin word Lent, which meant "fortieth.." Lent slowly grew into a season of spiritual preparation for Christian discipleship..
During this season, the faith community prepared converts for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins and had separated themselves from the community of faith reconciled themselves with their brothers and sisters. They accomplished this through acts of penitence and forgiveness and were restored to participation in the life of the Church. In this way, the whole congregation was reminded of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the need we all have to renew our faith. Therefore, we invite you in the name of Christ's Church to observe a holy Lent: by self–examination and repentance; by prayer and fasting; and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word.
Anointment and Being Marked with Ashes
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. "So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. "And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Anointment, the application of oil as a blessing, is an ancient religious rite, but has been especially important in Christian history. As you can see from the passage in Matthew, Jesus exhorted his followers to "put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father." Anointing was also an element in healing practices among the early church faithful.
Undoubtedly anointing with oil became part of the Lenten fast. It is believed that by the 6th Century, Christians began also using ashes to mark the beginning of Lent. Thus, the first day of the 40-day period of Lent came to be known as Ash Wednesday. At some point in Church history, congregations began to burn the palms from Palm Sunday to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday..
Many churches continue the celebration of Ash Wednesday, marking ourselves with oil and ashes.
So on this Ash Wednesday, whether you have been marked by ashes or not, know that you are blessed:
A Blessing and Exhortation for Ash Wednesday
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Remember that only by God's gracious gift we are given everlasting life. Repent, and believe the gospel through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Celebrating Ash Wednesday at Home
As with many church traditions, things we now usually only do in church were things the early Christians did at home, often in hiding, and only with family members and close friends. Anointing is one of those Christian rituals you can share at home.
On Ash Wednesday, or any day during Lent (especially if you are fasting), pour some olive oil (the traditional Middle Eastern oil used for anointing) in a small bowl. Dip the tip of your finger in the oil, and apply it in the shape of a cross to yourself or another person on the back of a hand or on the forehead. As you apply it, say a simple blessing, like "may God Bless you," or "in the name of Jesus Christ, may you be blessed."
A Gift for Ash Wednesday
We observe Lent as a time of repentance and contemplation, and traditionally as a time for fasting, But though giving gifts for Lent may seem odd, Christ would remind us that where you see a hungry person, you see Him. Even our small part of the world in Colchester has too many hungry people.
Therefore, on Ash Wednesday 2021, Jerry Allyn delivered to the Colchester Food Shelf the 311 pounds of food and household goods we collected as our Souper Bowl mission activity. May this gift anoint those who receive it with God's blessings.
Yours in Christ