Ash Wednesday might be a familiar term to many. However, what it truly signifies and stands for may be lost on most. Ash Wednesday for Methodists is important and has a deeper meaning other than just being another day. If you’re unfamiliar with Ash Wednesday and have been wondering what it’s truly all about, you’ve come to the right place.
What is Lent?
Ash Wednesday falls on the first day of Lent, which is the six weeks leading up to Easter. Lent is a 40-day period of reflection, fasting, repentance, study of the Word, etc. It directly reflects the time Jesus was tempted in the desert by Satan and ultimately ended in victory. This is why Lent is often ended with a victory celebration as well. This is an important observance for many Christians, especially Methodists. Lent is signified by the color purple, which becomes a popular color during this time of reflection.
What is the Significance of Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday, although during Lent where purple is more popular, is signified by the color grey, like ashes. It’s a day for humbling one’s self, admitting sins, and repenting. The verses correlated with Ash Wednesday are Genesis 2:7 – “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
The other verse is Genesis 3:19 – “For dust you are, and to dust, you shall return.” Priests and pastors, when placing the ash cross on patrons’ foreheads will state, “From dust you came and from dust you will return.” This is a reminder to stay humble and to turn from our sins because we are simply ash and will return to ash upon death – a sign of our mortality. Ash Wednesday begins Lent as a way for believers to be solemn and focus on what they need to rid their life of – a day of mourning their sins. The following days of Lent are to allow believers to focus on those shortcomings and overcome them. At the end of Lent, it’s the opposite of Ash Wednesday – it’s a celebration of new life and cleansing.
We hear of people mourning in the Bible using sackcloth and ashes. In fact, ashes were used often in the Bible when people were fasting, repenting, or mourning. Ashes signify an ending, something that has been destroyed. They also signify cleansing. This is why most believers who celebrate the holiday will display an ash cross on their head – it holds great significance.
Do Methodists Fast on Ash Wednesday?
Traditionally, it’s encouraged that believers fast all throughout Lent which includes Ash Wednesday. This is because Jesus fasted for the 40 days he was in the wilderness. However, many people correlate fasting with food, but it’s simply the act of abstaining. In other words, people search themselves and find vices in their life (addictions, bad language, food, etc.) and fast from those things for Lent and Ash Wednesday.
So, the bottom line, yes, they fast on Ash Wednesday, but not always food. Many people will choose to give up just one item for Lent, more commonly a ‘luxury’ such as chocolate, meat or alcohol. It is also becoming increasingly common for people to give up other things in order to refocus their faith during this time – such as watching TV, playing video games, even social media.
Quick Facts About Ash Wednesday
There is a lot of information that can be offered on Ash Wednesday for Methodists. However, that would take quite a long time to explain. In an effort to answer as many questions and inform as much as possible, here are some quick facts about Ash Wednesday for Methodists.
A priest or pastor does not have to be the only one to draw the cross on a believer’s forehead. In our modern-day era, many people don’t even enter a church in order to receive or display the ash cross. This is not breaking any guidelines and is perfectly normal. It’s the act of displaying the cross that’s important along with understanding why it’s done.
It’s traditional to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday.
You don’t have to respond to the person placing the ashes on your forehead. In fact, it’s customary that you remain quiet since that’s a large part of an Ash Wednesday service. You may say “Amen” or “I will” or other similar phrases; however, it’s not customary.
Most Ash Wednesday services will have long stretches of silence. This is because believers are encouraged to focus, reflect, repent, grow nearer to our Lord.
Since this is a Methodist website, you know that Catholics aren’t the only denomination that observes Ash Wednesday and Lent. Many sects of believers observe these holidays.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are not found in the Bible. However, they have long been a holiday observed by believers as a way to be reminded of the journey Jesus went through to not only save us but also show us how to live a life pleasing to God
The ashes utilized at churches are often the remains of palm branches from the Palm Sunday that occurs just a few days before Ash Wednesday. However, most any ashes will work because of its signification.
Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, which means it’s not mandatory to observe within the faith, although most do observe it.
I know it can seem overwhelming to take in all the information. However, you’re not alone. It takes many of us years to grasp all the details and to fully understand the depth of the holiday. However, the biggest take away is that Ash Wednesday for Methodists is important and has great significance, making it worth learning about.