Ash Wednesday service held in Westmont Prayer Chapel
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Ash Wednesday has come and gone, thus officially kicking off a new season of Lent. For those who are still uncertain of the meaning of Lent, this observance from early Christianity entreats members of the church to partake in the practice of giving up a hobby or habit for 40 days. This year’s fasting includes a vast array of items and actions that Westmont students have chosen to give up. These desired luxuries include things such as social media, secular music, soft drinks, and D.C. French fries. Personal conviction or introspection is the main factor behind participating in Lent, although some see it as an annual tradition.
On campus, forehead ashes didn’t just stop at chapel. After the traditional Ash Wednesday chapel, there were two more events. Dr. Jayawardene hosted a Roman Catholic, ecumenical liturgy in the afternoon, which further explained symbols used during the rituals. Later in the evening, Prince of Peace held a Lutheran service that was led by Rev. Dr. Lee.
At the evening Ash Wednesday observance, a group of professors, students, and families met to worship and repent. A variety of selected Psalms were sung, as well as customary hymns. Confessions were read, and passages of scripture from Joel and 1 Corinthians were shared. Near the end of the gathering, communion was taken and thanksgivings were proclaimed. Together, these individuals declared their dependence on God and their desire to draw near to Him. Ash Wednesday is a time for individual admission of guilt and communal remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The observance of this religious custom stems all the way back to the first century. First, the prior year’s blessed palm branches are turned into blessing ashes. On Ash Wednesday, the blessing ashes are placed on the heads of those observing Lent. Instead of performing a symbolic ritual, people actively cut something out of their lives for 40 days in order to create space for God. The symbolism of the number 40 abounds in the Bible, and there are 40 days of fasting during Lent. This opens up time in one’s schedule to be with God and pursue Him with one less distraction. Along with fasting, Lent is also a time for increased prayer and compassion, because those who practice Lent are demonstrating their utter need for God.
Westmont third-year Sarah Zuidema explained what Ash Wednesday meant to her when she said, “Ash Wednesday is a day to make space for and reflect on God and our dependence on Him. This day and the subsequent fasting are meant to be social practices that bring our church community together in our reflection of the Father.”
Television, coffee, meat, and makeup. Complaining, naps, ice cream, and cookies. The abstinence of these items or actions causes a void in one’s life that can be actively filled by God. March 1st, 2017 was more this year than simply the beginning of the month leading into spring. It was the start of Lent – the custom of fasting – which desires to bring participants in the Westmont community closer to God.