This week in the Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday happens. Christians recognize this day as the beginning of the season of Lent, a 40-day period that runs until just before Easter. Traditionally, this time was used to prepare those who desired to become Christians into official membership in the Church, which would occur only once a year, on Easter Sunday. New converts were invited into a 40-day period of reflection and spiritual discipline, focused on prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial.
In the 20th century, we Protestants joined our Orthodox & Catholic siblings in marking this period with a series of worship services, including Ash Wednesday & Maundy Thursday at the open and close of the season. But at its origin, the season wasn't designed for institutional activity, it focused on personal spiritual discipline.
So, this year, I invite you into Lent, personally. Practice these spiritual disciplines as an individual and take up your Cross as you prepare for Easter Sunday.
Begin and end every day with prayer. Not only prayer of Thanksgiving for all you have in this life but pray with the aim of genuine repentance.
Contemplate the places in your life where you fall short of God's desire for you, and invite the Spirit to take charge of those areas and guide you more fully into resurrection life as an individual follower of Jesus.
Seek out those you have wronged and request their forgiveness. Seek out and forgive one who has wronged you. Take immediate, personal, and direct actions that reflect the ways of true repentance.
Consider your charitable giving -- how can you share with those in need both inside the church community and across Wichita? Use this time of reflection to rebalance your financial life to live in a more generous and abundant way.
I've been asked in recent days: "Are we having an Ash Wednesday service?" And the answer is, "No, we are not." Every Sunday in this season we will reflect together on the individual walk I invite you into today, and we will prepare as a corporate body to recommit ourselves on Easter Sunday to the reality of abundant, resurrection life that awaits us. But we will use this time individually to prepare to embrace that reality. I invite you to explore these practices so that the rituals we embody in corporate worship will be more real, more vibrant, and more relevant in your own life.