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Today starts 40-day Lenten season

Today, Christians around the world are celebrating Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent.

At church services, members will be given the imposition of ashes on their foreheads. The ashes are the remnants of palm branches from previous Palm Sundays.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church Rector Reid McCormick said today is a traditional day in which Lent is observed.

“In the early church, Lent was the preparation of time for those who were to be baptized at the Easter vigil service, which was held after sundown on Holy Saturday, in the evening or early morning before sunrise on Easter Day,” McCormick said.

McCormick said Lent lasts 40 days and represents the gospel recordings of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, where he fasted and prayed while experiencing temptations.

“The number 40 also reminds us of the Israelites’ 40-year journey from Egypt to the promised land — the time when the people of Israel recall their delivery from captivity and bondage to freedom, and the land of milk and honey,” he said.

Within the 40 days of Lent, Christians take time to repent, fast and prepare for the coming of Easter, First United Methodist Church Pastor David Saliba said.

“It is a time when many Christians observe a period of moderation and spiritual discipline, including self-examination, prayer, fasting, study and reflection,” Saliba said.

Observing and participating in an Ash Wednesday service gives an opportunity for individuals and the church as a community to examine their participation in their fallenness and to realize the new beginning that’s already been given to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, McCormick said.

“While we can experience this every Sunday, this service represents an intentional beginning to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, knowing full well that he will be crucified on Good Friday and to own our part in participation of that event as members of the human race,” he said.

There are three things that take place during an Ash Wednesday service in the Episcopal Church, McCormick said.

“First, participants are invited to observe a Holy Lent ‘by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word. And to make a right beginning of repentance,’” he said. “Second, participants kneel before the altar and are marked with an Ash smudge (some use the sign of the cross) on their foreheads with the words ‘remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ The ashes are the burnt residue of the blessed palms from previous Palm Sundays. The ash smudge and the words combined remind us of our mortality and total reliance upon God as our creator and the only one who can bring us to wholeness for our human iniquities.

“Third, the service continues with the reciting of Psalm 51 and the Litany of Penitence, where the church as a community expresses their human failures and shortcomings, and asks for forgiveness and restoration,” he said.

For the Methodist Church, the Ash Wednesday service serves as a remembrance of our “mortality,” Saliba said.

“The palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday service will be burned on Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and the ashes will be used on Ash Wednesday as we lightly rub the sign of the cross onto the foreheads of worshipers as an outward sign of our sorrow and repentance,” he said.

Worshippers will get the chance to write a sin they wish to repent during Lent on a card, which will then be burned at the altar at FUMC as a sign of Christ’s forgiveness and deliverance, Saliba said.

Ash Wednesday service times at St. Thomas are today at noon and 6 p.m. with each lasting about 45 minutes. At First United Methodist Church, there is a service at 6 p.m.