Ash Wednesday & 40 Days of Lent 

Bible Lesson

Millions of Christians observe Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season, while others barely know what it's about. I thought it might be helpful to give a brief description for those who don't understand the purpose of these observances and maybe offer new insight to veterans of this holiday, as well as a craft idea for use in your classrooms. 

As Springtime approaches, we see the days "lengthening" - a phenomenon beautifully encapsulated by the old English term, Lenten. Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday, is a time of reflection, repentance, and renewal, beginning with Ash Wednesday. On this day, ashes are placed on the foreheads of the faithful in the sign of the cross. This symbolic act serves as a poignant reminder of Christ's death, our own sins, and the profound sorrow they should instill within us. It's a call to repentance - a turn from sin and a turn towards God. 

These ashes, traditionally obtained from the burned palm branches of the previous year's Palm Sunday, connect us with a practice dating back to Old Testament times. While many believe the Roman Catholic Church initiated this custom in 1091 A.D., its roots run far deeper, "So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: 'O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws.'" Daniel 9:3-5. (See also, Esther 4:1-3, Job 2:8 42:6 and Isaiah 58:5)

Why are there 40 days of Lent?

In the 40 days of Lent believers unite themselves to Jesus when he was tempted in the desert for 40 days and nights (Matthew 4:1-11). "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning" Hebrews 4:15.

Lent is a special time of reflecting in prayer and fasting upon the importance of our redemption and salvation made possible through Christ's suffering on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. Many people give up something they enjoy doing or eating during Lent as a constant reminder of how Jesus overcame temptation, and gave up his life for theirs; many people also participate in special service projects during the forty days of Lent.

Ash Wednesday Lesson and Craft
Ask, "What is sin?" (Discuss: sin is disobeying God's rules with our actions, words, and inward thoughts. It is missing the mark of being perfect.)

Have children write their sins on paper crosses. They do not have to share what they wrote. This is between God and them. If children are too young to write, have them draw their sins on the crosses. Take crosses outside and place in a fire pit, barbeque grill, or large stainless steel bowl. Have an adult burn the crosses, and then stir to the cool ashes (make sure children do not get near the heat/ fire). While the ashes are being prepared, read 1 John 1:9 and spend time praying and thanking Jesus for dying to forgive our sins. You might want to sing a song of praise too. Once the ashes are cooled, allow children to use the ashes to draw crosses on paper or on their foreheads.

Copyright 2005 Sarah A. Keith

For a devotional on Jesus' temptations, go to the Forty Days in the Wilderness lesson.

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