Jesus told us to do certain things so we will remember him (I Corinthians 11.24-25). I believe he said it because he knows what we’re like. He’s certainly got me figured out. He knows I forget things; important things; all the time. I forget the names of people I know really well, especially and embarrassingly, when I’m about to introduce them. I forget to say my prayers. I forget to take my pills. I forget to announce things and thank certain people during Sunday services. I get up and go to another room to do something only to find when I get there that I’ve forgotten what I was going to do. I’m writing this on Ash Wednesday because I have it on my calendar to write it today. It’s on my calendar because if it wasn’t, I’d very likely arrive at Wednesday, like one of those rooms I keep getting up and going to, and forget why I’m there.
Which reminds me, you are reading this on the first Saturday in Lent. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and runs for forty days (not counting Sundays which are always days to celebrate the Resurrection) until the day before Easter Sunday. The word “Lent” has to do with spring. Lent is a season of spiritual “spring-training” in which many Christians take extra time for self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and reading and meditating on the Word of God.
Now, where was I? O yes. Some people think that having a cross drawn on your forehead with ashes on Ash Wednesday is nothing but an empty ritual and a vain “religious” superstition, as are all the other Lenten spiritual “exercises.” I have to agree that they could be misused if I did them hoping to earn some favour from God. Maybe some people really do do them for that reason. I do them, however, not because Jesus needs reminding of anything, I do them because I know I do.
The cross-shaped smudge of ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday is a sign that reminds me of my mortality, that I am dust and to dust I shall return, of my need to be penitent and that only in Jesus will I receive and enjoy eternal life. The Lenten spiritual “spring-training” exercises help me remember that, too. And it all reminds absent-minded, forgetful, sinful me that the first word of the gospel is repent.
I never want to forget it—ever—and I know I need reminding, over and over again. So, I suspect, do you. May your Lent be holy, evocative and full of rich reminders of Jesus.