Spring might be more than a month away, but for many, a new season began Wednesday.
At churches across Jackson County, people took part in Ash Wednesday services marking the traditional beginning of Lent, which lasts 40 days and leads up to the celebration of Jesus rising from the dead on Easter Sunday.
The word Lent actually means spring and is a time for Christians of all denominations to prepare their minds, hearts and bodies for a new life, said Father Dan Staublin of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Seymour.
“We are entering into the springtime of our faith when we renew our spiritual commitments to our Lord,” he said.
One of the most visual symbols of the start of Lent is the marking of the cross in ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday.
At first glance, it might look like just a smudge of dirt, but that smudge means much more to those who receive it. The ashes are used by church leaders to mark each person with the symbol of the cross.
The ashes come from burning the palm fronds used during the previous year’s Palm Sunday service, Staublin said.
Justine Jameson of Seymour received the ashes at St. Ambrose on Wednesday morning with her family.
“The ashes we receive on our forehead are in the shape of a cross, not a smudge, and serve as an outward sign of our sinfulness and need for penance,” she said. “The ashes also symbolize our mortality.”
It’s that reminder that directs people on how they should live, Staublin said.
“This world is not going to last forever. Our bodies won’t last forever, but God calls us to new life,” he said. “It is under that cross of ashes that we are called to live. It’s a sign of our faith.”
Pastor Andrew Currao of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Seymour said Lent should be about reflecting on one’s sins and God’s sacrifice to take away those sins so that we may “live forever.”
“Sin is a word not often used in society anymore and often is misunderstood when it is used,” he said. “We believe that sin is at the heart of all the troubles we face, but what a thing to remind ourselves that God sent his son Jesus into this world to conquer sin and death.”
During the 40 days of Lent, Christians prepare for the sacrifice that Jesus made when he died on the cross by making their own sacrifices. Some choose to give up drinking soda, eating chocolate, red meat or fast food or watching television.
Lent is not just about giving up something, but tying that sacrifice into giving of yourself something bigger and greater, Staublin said.
“If you give up something to eat, then we encourage you to save the money you would have spent on the food and give it to charity,” he said. “It’s not the idea of losing weight that is the motivation. It’s doing something that is bigger than ourselves.”
For children, it may be as simple as going out of the way to do more chores at home. For adults, it could be spending more time praying and reading the Bible or volunteering in the community.
Jameson said instead of giving up something specific, she tends to deny herself things in general.
“If I’m wanting a Coke with my meal, I order a water, or if I feel like watching TV on the couch all day on Sunday, I volunteer my time,” she said. “We really try to focus on living more uncomfortably during the Lenten season.”
Connie Gerth of Seymour said she doesn’t give up anything for Lent but tries to do good things for others.
Currao said the tradition of giving up something during Lent goes way back, but the idea of adding something is fairly new.
“Tell someone every day that you care about them, read a chapter of the Bible, adding things in our life that reflect the faith we have in Christ,” Currao said.
Although cold temperatures and snow may have kept some people home Wednesday, both Staublin and Currao said Ash Wednesday services are usually well attended. St. Ambrose held two services, one in the morning and a bilingual service in the evening, while Redeemer conducted one at noon and an evening service.