Last week, we observed Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent in the Christian calendar. It occurs 46 days before Easter each year and derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of believers as a sign of repentance to God, according to www.stbarnabaschelsea.org. The ashes used to mark the sign of the cross on each worshipper’s forehead commonly are gathered after the burning of the previous year’s palm branches from Palm Sunday. Those receiving the sign of the cross are encouraged to wear it until it wears off as a sign of sorrow for sins and faults and their commitment to change their ways.
This practice is celebrated by many denominations including Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans and some Baptist churches. According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert before beginning His public ministry. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer, fasting and repentance.
In much earlier times, according to Biblical chapters such as Genesis 3:19, Mark 1:15 and Jeremiah 6:26, ashes were put onto or thrown over one’s head to signify repentance before God. One of the most common scriptures referred to by priests and ministers during Ash Wednesday services is Psalm 51, which was written by David as a song for confession and prayer for restoration. He wrote it after being confronted by Nathan, the prophet, for two major sins he had covered up.
For many people in today’s world, the importance of sin as a concept gradually is eroding. Some dismiss belief in sinful behavior as an old-fashioned notion. Others accept the reality of sin, but deny their own sins. Many use sin as an opportunity for entertainment, delighting in the exposure of others caught in it, or even bragging and showing their own moral failures.
It is sad to say that there are many among the ranks of labeled Christians who only think about the possibilities of Christ’s prime directive to go and make disciples and see to the needs of others during the Easter season, the Christmas holidays or at a time of personal or national disaster.
There are so many people struggling with their faith and values — or lack of them — at this time of the year, especially during Lent and after the Easter celebration. It is a time when many families gather together, reminisce and attend church. Many of these people, however, only attend services due to pressure from relatives, habit or, perhaps, because they’ll be embarrassed if they don’t go. But in their hearts and minds, they truly may be struggling. They want to make that first step to the altar, to speak and pray with someone or to have someone notice that they are hurting inside. These struggling people know what they are missing in their lives.
A Stephen Minister can make a difference in the lives of those who are struggling with issues of faith or are seeking Jesus Christ’s love, grace, forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. The ministers are trained to confidentially work with and help heal those in need in a gender-sensitive environment. Appointments are free. Call 912-320-7840 to make one.
Scherer is a crisis intervention minister and the leader of the local Stephen Ministry.