By John Armistead

Daily Journal

Many churches throughout Northeast Mississippi marked the beginning of Lent with special Ash Wednesday services.

“Ashes are grimy,” said the Rev. McCoy Franklin to the congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Tupelo at Wednesday night’s service, “and are a reminder of our mortality.”

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a 40-day period (not counting Sundays) of preparation for Easter. In biblical times, ashes were a symbol of repentance and mourning. In his desperation, Job cried out, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6 NIV).

Ashes are also, as Franklin reminded his congregation, a sign of man’s mortality. Abraham, when pleading with God, said, “… I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27 NIV). According to Christian tradition, the ashes emphasize the somber character of Lent.

The word Lent comes from the Middle English “lenten,” or spring. This season of preparation for Easter usually came in the springtime. The 40 days are probably related to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness.

Easter is the oldest special celebration of Christianity, and Lent, as a preparation for it, was observed in a rudimentary form as early as the second century. Easter was the traditional time for baptism, and the period of preparing for baptism was a time of self-examination and turning from the old life.

The idea of self-examination continues to be a large part of what Lent is all about. It is a season when believers reflect upon their spiritual lives, and often make commitments to live better lives.

It is also preparation time for the Easter event, the final Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services will mark the darkest period of Christ’s suffering, reflecting Christ’s final hours.

Self-examination, repentance and recommitment are all themes of Lenten services.

After the congregation at First Presbyterian recited a penitent psalm together, they filed down the aisle of the church in two lines to kneel before Franklin and associate pastor the Rev. Ann Kelly. The ministers rubbed a black cross with moist ashes onto the forehead of each worshiper.

Ashes are, by any measure, dark and dirty. They reminded penitent believers who wore them Wednesday of the light and cleansing of the coming Easter morning.

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