• Devin O'Donnell

Ash Wednesday & the Season of Lent

Updated: Mar 4

Today is Ash Wednesday for many churches in the West and East. Traditionally, this marks the day of corporate repentance for sins and the beginning of the penitential season of Lent. It's customary to have your forehead marked with black ash in the shape of the cross, this the outward sign of our inward contrition, as in ancient times. Consider the symbol of "ashes" on the heads in Scripture:

When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. (Job 2:12)

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. (Joshua 7:6)

The elders of the daughter of Zion

Sit on the ground, they are silent.

They have thrown dust on their heads;

They have girded themselves with sackcloth.

The virgins of Jerusalem

Have bowed their heads to the ground. (Lamentations 2:10)

These are just a few verses. There are several others. Note that "ashes" are symbolically associated with "dust." Recall the words of God in Genesis 3:19: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The main purpose for all this business could be summed up in Psalm 90:12: "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

Thus, the season of Lent is initiated with this practice. Some of us who might not be familiar with the reasons for Lent, would do well to remember that the Church calendar follows the life of Christ. In Lent, Christians all around the world (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox) practice the spiritual discipline of fasting and prayer. This is because Christ engaged in the spiritual discipline of prayer and fasting, and we see this especially at the start of his ministry. Christ fasted for 40 days in the wilderness and resisted the temptations of the devil. He became for us the true Israel, who did not fail in the wilderness but came "out of Egypt," through baptism at the Jordan, to became the better Moses and the true Joshua who can lead us into the Promise Land of salvation. We fast because Christ himself fasted. Lent lasts for 40 days because Christ was in the wilderness for 40 days. This season of Lent prepares us for the season of Easter, and the 40 days leads to Holy Week where we enter into Christ's Passion.

Agenda for the week:

  1. Prayer

  2. Review last night's reading of "Solon"

  3. Check annotations and discuss the reading

  4. Read Book 21-23 of Homer's Iliad (have your books!)

  5. Friday we read up to line 30 in Book 23.

  6. Introduce Study Guide for The Iliad


  1. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. Pray, that you may not stumble.

  2. Look at the Study Guide for The Iliad


Consider Rembrandt's "Prodigal Son" as a symbol of this penitential season. Consider his depiction of the broken and contrite heart of the Prodigal Son, who returned in dust to his father. What images stand out to you? What details are significant?

REMBRANDT Harmenszoon van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1669,Oil on canvas, The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

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