Lent and Ash Wednesday

LENT

This season of the Christian calendar is when the followers of Jesus confess their mortality and complete dependence on God's provision. What began with Advent, the season of longing and waiting for our promised Messiah, continued with the celebration of his birth at Christmas, then saw the Epiphany season when Jesus Christ is revealed as the Deliverer for all, now unfolds as a time of deep preparation for Easter morning and the celebration of knowing that all who have died in Christ will be raised to new life with him.

During Lent, we remember that the mission of deliverance on which Jesus came led him to a path of suffering. Likewise, we who would follow him must deny ourselves, identifying with him as we take up our cross daily, and walk in humble repentance with our eyes fixed on the hope of resurrection (for Easter is coming). (Luke 9:23) This is the call of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday's sobering reminder that "you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Eccl. 3:20)

Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent, falls 40 days before Easter each year. We do not count Sundays because the Lord's Day re-enacts the full gospel and not only the call to repentance. This number of days corresponds with the 40-day fast of Jesus (Matt. 4:2) and for that reason, many people choose to fast from something during the season of Lent. We have more information below on fasting specifically for Lent, and on a page covering fasting in general at riovistachurch.com/fasting.

ASH WEDNESDAY

We offer two Ash Wednesday services, at 7:00 AM and 6:30 PM, both in the Worship Center.

Please arrive early and enter in silent reverence.

Communion will be served and you will have an opportunity to receive the ashes.

Due to the brevity of this service, childcare is not available.

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ASHES?

Because the imposition of ashes isn't a custom in every denomination, and may carry different meanings depending on the denomination, we've prepared a short Q&A for any who would like more detailed information about our practice at Rio.

Click to Read

What have the ashes historically represented? The ashes are a symbol and a reminder to you of the truth of your sin and Christ’s great sacrifice for you. The ashes are a reminder of the truth that you are nothing but dust apart from the animating breath of God in you (see Genesis 2:7).

What do they not represent? They are not mystical in any way, nor are they a sign of your piety to the world. They are not even the central part of the service. The purpose of our service is to worship God as we begin our journey into a season of Lenten repentance, denial of self, and hope in the resurrection.

How might the ashes be applied? Historically the ashes are applied in the form of a cross to your forehead.

  • You may choose to simply take communion and leave with your heart fully satisfied that you are engaged in the spirit of Lent.
  • You may choose to receive the ashes on your forehead, spend some time in quiet meditation among the community of faith, and then remove them before you head out into the world.
  • You may choose to wear them throughout the day as a reminder to yourself.
  • Some choose to wear them on their wrists as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for them.

Which you choose to do should be a matter of prayerful consideration and we encourage you to obey the voice of the Holy Spirit in your conscience.

ENGAGING WITH LENT

Let your conscience be stirred by the Holy Spirit before deciding to what extent and in which particular ways you will personally engage with the message of this season. Ideally, this would be done in advance of the Ash Wednesday service, perhaps during your daily personal worship. Neither Ash Wednesday nor Lent is a commanded ordinance in Scripture, nor are they recognized as sacraments in our church tradition. This means that while we believe it may be good for your soul to engage in and be formed by these practices, they are not in any final sense necessary obligations.

If you can, make arrangements to attend the Ash Wednesday service. Also, remember to prepare your kids for Lent, whether or not they can attend the Ash Wednesday service. You may want to read to them the story of Jesus’ 40-day fast and temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4), or talk with them about Ecclesiastes 3:20 in light of the resurrection hope Jesus has given to us—that the dust to which you will return will not, in fact, be your final destination!

Worshipers who are observing Lent often hold a fast during this season. This does not mean you should fast from meals for 40 days. Letting the Lord lead your conscience, consider if a fast during this period would be a constant reminder of your humanity and humble dependence on Christ. If so, then consider from what you might fast to achieve that reminder. If you choose to fast from food for any period during this season, please consult your doctor before you do so, especially if you take any prescription medicines.

DECIDING FROM WHAT YOU SHOULD FAST

Before you begin fasting, please take a minute to read this guide: riovistachurch.com/fasting. Prayerfully consider what it is that the Lord would call you to fast from during this season. It should be enough of an imposition that it is a constant or at least daily reminder.

Also, consider what you will do in place of that thing from which you fast. How will you engage in repentance and trust in God’s provision each time the absence of that thing burdens you?

  • If fasting from food, spend time engaging more deeply in your personal worship when you would normally sit down to eat a meal.
  • If fasting from media, when you would normally listen to talk radio in the car, pray instead. Read a book about discipleship, spiritual disciplines, or any other biblical topic that interests you when you otherwise would have turned on the TV.
  • If something material or behavioral has more hold on you than it should, perhaps you can think of a way to address this with a fast. Deny yourself that thing you desire and instead, serve your neighbor with a meal or other simple blessing.

Remember that the point of this is not primarily self-improvement, nor is it an occasion to display to God or others the heights of your piety. In fact, nothing could be more contrary to the purpose of a fast. The point of a fast is to worship the One who emptied Himself on your behalf. Whenever possible, keep the details of your fast a secret between you and the Lord (and perhaps your spouse, so you’re better able to encourage one another), and pray daily that the Lord would supply the grace that is needed to keep your motives pure.