Ash Wednesday brings to mind the real kingship of Christ
A reminder of mortality, the need to repent and believe in the Gospel.
The ashes of Ash Wednesday carry that familiar message as the Lenten season begins – and in a way perhaps not as recognized, they can represent even more, bringing to mind the sometimes transitory nature of faith and the true kingship of Christ.
That’s because the ashes traditionally are created from palm fronds blessed the year before, for Palm Sunday – the commemoration of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, hailed as a king – only to be crucified five days later, said Father Scott Hastings, vicar for clergy and judicial vicar for the Metropolitan Tribunal.
Many in the crowd hoped for an earthly savior, but that was not part of Jesus’ plan, Father Hastings said. Others had experienced his love and compassion, but when it became difficult to remain faithful, they abandoned or betrayed him, Father Hastings said.
"These same people had been fed by him, they heard the stories. They came from all over Galilee to present their sick and their dying," and still they abandoned him to be crucified, he said.
Those who believe in Christ often do the same today, even with the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom and clarity of the church to better understand his kingship – which is not a promise of prosperity and easy living, but a way to live life fully, with great love and fidelity, through joys and sorrows, he said. Faced with difficulties, chafing under the promise to be faithful to Jesus’ teaching, it is easy to be distracted or deliberately ignore his wishes – in effect, to abandon Christ, he said.
"It’s when I fail in those moments, that’s why we have Ash Wednesday," Father Hastings said.
Father Owen Korte, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Hartington, said Ash Wednesday, celebrated March 1 this year, and the 40 days of Lent also are an important time for people to recognize their mortality, sinfulness and selfishness, and to know God looks upon everyone with love and forgiveness.
"Jesus is the face of mercy," he said. "He wants to redeem us."
And the disciplines of Lent – prayer, penance and almsgiving – help people cooperate with God’s wish, to become better Christians, Father Korte said.
Giving up meat on the Fridays of Lent can be done with prayer, for example, such as intentions for an end to hostilities in the Middle East or the cause of religious freedom in the United States, Father Korte said. Fasting can be undertaken with the desire to give bread to the hungry, he said.
"The works of mercy are embedded in that," Father Korte said.
Penance during Lent and other times of the year includes repairing damage done by sin, to others and to our relationship with God, and turning away from sin, Father Hastings said.
Fasting can be part of that process, in part by showing God the depth of one’s repentance and helping to grow in freedom from attachments that can lead to sin, leading to greater joy, Father Hastings said.
Depending on what is being sacrificed for Lent, fasting can have other benefits, such as helping people better recognize and enjoy Easter as a real celebration, he said.
Father Hastings said he remembers wanting one treat or another during Lent while he was growing up, and being urged to "wait until Easter."
That made the big meal, cheesecake for dessert and other celebratory foods that much more meaningful and joy-filled at Easter, Father Hastings said.
"It’s a certain day of largesse and real celebration," he said.