Ash Wednesday is a somber and sober day in New Orleans as people flock to the cathedrals and churches to have the sign of the cross placed on their foreheads by a priest or minister. The ashes used are from palm branches used on Palm Sunday of the previous year. They are burned, mixed with holy (blessed) water into a paste and applied to the foreheads or hands of those who seek to become more spiritual over a span of six and one half weeks culminating with Easter Sunday. In New Orleans the population is overwhelmingly Catholic and Ash Wednesday is a regular part of the Catholic liturgy and practice. Baptists in the city do not celebrate Ash Wednesday as a rule but a few churches hold special services that coincide with the beginning of Lent.
I didn’t grow up in a high service/high liturgy church so to me lent was something we used a sticky brush to remove from our clothes. It wasn’t until I moved to New Orleans that I grew to appreciate the spiritual possibilities of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. Lent is a 43-day season where we can reorder our lives, confess and move away from problem sins and place more dependence upon God than we do on ourselves. Many people will fast during Lent and others will give up something over the six weeks. The key is to place something distinctly spiritual into the void left by the object being avoided. Lent can be a true life-changer.
I disagree with the New Orleans model of drinking one’s self silly on Fat Tuesday so Ash Wednesday will be more effective. Paul had a lot to say on that view of forgiveness of sin and he would not have been a fan of Mardi Gras. I’m guessing he’d have sent the churches a letter or two. But let’s face it…we all sin, no matter where we live or what we do on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. So let’s forget Tuesday and embrace Wednesday. Ash Wednesday. A new start for all of us!