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Christians mark Ash Wednesday

Individuals throughout the LOU area will be walking around today with ashes on their heads, deep in thought about Lent and what it means for them as Christians.

Eddie Rester, lead pastor at Oxford University United Methodist Church, said at his services today church-goers will have ashes placed on their foreheads from burned palm branches used at last year’s Palm Sunday service. He said Ash Wednesday is not only the start of Lent, but it is also used as a reminder for Christians.

“Ash Wednesday is a reminder of two things,” he said. “First of all, human mortality and our sinfulness before God. It’s a reminder through the ashes that you’re not whole and not complete and we can be made whole and be made complete through Jesus Christ.”

Being made complete through God is part of the reason behind giving up something for Lent, Rester said.

“Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent so as a part of our services we talk about discipline,” he said. “Give up something or take on something. Study additional scriptures or set aside time to serve someone each week.”

The somber kickoff of Lent today is in contrast to parades on Tuesday.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and OUUMC paired up to have their own parade leading into today’s Ash Wednesday and Lent.

“There are close connections in Mississippi of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday,” Rester said. “Fat Tuesday is a day of final celebration. In the old days it was when people would clean out their pantries of sugar and fatty foods in preparation for Lent.”

Father Joe Tonos with St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church echoed Rester, and said Fat Tuesday has origins in Catholicism.

‘This was the last day to enjoy sweets, meat and fattening foods before the period of Lent. So you’d be encouraged to clean out the cupboard and fatten up,” he said.

Tonos said Ash Wednesday begins the Roman Catholic season of Lent, which is the 40 days before Easter. Easter is the highest season for the church’s liturgical calendar since it marks Jesus’ rising from the dead.

“During Ash Wednesday services, Christians are sprinkled or marked with ashes,” Tonos said. “The ashes are either sprinkled on the crown of the person’s head or a cross or “smudge” is made on the forehead. Either symbol echoes where Chrism oil is placed on an initiated Christian. We fail in our Christian duties through sinfulness and therefore our fresh oil has become like ash. It’s just symbolic of our sorrow for sin.”

Create good habits

Tonos reminded that Lent isn’t all about giving up soft drinks, meat or Facebook.

“For 40 days, Christians are invited to fast, pray and give in service in more intentional ways,” he said. “Lent is really not a time to ‘give up something’ as it is a time to create good habits that benefit your soul.”

He said Lent is an opportunity to mirror Jesus, especially with his pilgrimage to his ministry, and practice self-denial.

Jesus’ ministry involved him dying on the cross to forgive the sins of the world, and David Elliott, pastor with St. Peter’s, reminds his flock that death will happen to all of us.

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” he said. “On Ash Wednesday millions of people throughout this world will line up and kneel at an altar rail as a priest comes down that rail, makes the sign of the cross and rubs dirty, filthy ashes onto their foreheads, and they will hear these words — ‘remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return’ — very somber words.

“Those ashes, although they speak of death, call us to life. They call us to live fully each and every day we are alive — to share life and love with those around us and not to let a single day go by that we don’t tell people we love that we love them.”