Christians accept cross of ashes as testament to faith

MANATEE — Sally Blake resolved on Ash Wednesday to spend more time in personal devotions and visit others in her neighborhood.

Lent, a 40-day time period that begins with Ash Wednesday and leads up to Easter, typically involves a period of fasting, praying and sacrifice.

Instead of finding something to give up during Lent, Blake, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Bradenton, has chosen to increase giving to others and prepare for Easter.

“I think because Christ did so much for us, this is a very small thing to do for him,” she said. “It’s just a special time that we can consecrate a little more of our lives that we can give to him.”

Observed by Catholics, Episcopalians and other Christian denominations, Ash Wednesday is a time when believers attend a service to have their foreheads marked with ash to symbolize repentance and turning away from wrongdoing.

It also symbolizes the mortality of all people, who are from dust, and to dust they shall return, said Rev. Joel Morsch, rector of Christ Church, 4030 Manatee Ave., Bradenton.

He estimated that before the day was over, more than 350 members of his congregation would attend Ash Wednesday services. The Ash Wednesday tradition is an old one, dating back to antiquity when penitents who had committed serious crimes were given hair shirts covered with ashes.

“It was a way of showing penitence,” Morsch said.

For James Hedman, of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church, Lakewood Ranch, observing Lent is an opportunity to develop a habit of “divine orientation” with God, ultimately allowing him to change hearts.

“It’s only when that happens that God can do the real heart surgery on us,” he said.

Hedman said he plans to focus more on meditation and prayer during the Lenten season. As a congregation, the church will begin Sunday reading “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren.

“From a personal view, I see that it is obviously a time that brings us to remembrance and dependence on God,” he said. “It reminds us that we really need God and it’s because of his great love that we can depend on him.”

Jessica Klipa, Herald staff reporter, can be contacted at 708-7906.