Ash Wednesday: What does it signify?
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Christians all over the world will be gearing up for the next big event in the religious holiday calendar – Easter. Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Easter in the Christian calendar. By observing 40 days of Lent, Christians are able to replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days, similar to the Muslim fasting event of Ramadan. Lent is marked by fasting too, both from food, activities and festivities.
When does Lent start?
In 2021, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls on Wednesday, February 17.
Lent is 40 days long, not including Sundays, which means technically the festival lasts for 46 days.
This year, Lent ends three days before Easter Sunday on Thursday, April 1, 2021.
Whereas Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ after his death on the cross, Lent recalls the events leading up to his crucifixion.
The Christian churches that observe Lent in the 21st Century use it as a time for prayer and penance.
Only a small number of people nowadays fast for the whole period of Lent, while some continue the tradition on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
A much more common practice these days is for believers to surrender a particular vice, be it chocolate, smoking cigarettes or using social media.
Whatever the sacrifice, it represents a reflection of Jesus’s deprivation in the wilderness as well as a test in personal discipline.
When Lent ends in April, there’s an entire list of events leading up to the last day called the Holy Week.
Holy Week kicks off with Palm Sunday, which marks Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem where he received palm branches at his feet.
During Palm Sunday services, churchgoers are given palm crosses which are supposed to be safeguarded until the next year.
After Palm Sunday comes Holy Wednesday, which acknowledged Judas Iscariot’s plan to deceive and betray Jesus.
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This is followed by Maundy Thursday, commemorating Jesus’s last supper alongside his disciples.
Maundy Thursday is the official ending of Lent, but it doesn’t mark the last of Holy Week.
Next comes Good Friday, when Christians recall the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The final day of Holy Week is Easter Sunday, when believers acknowledge and commemorate Jesus rising from his tomb.
Why does Lent last for 40 days?
40 is a very significant number in Christian scripture, as well as in Judaism too, and represents more than Jesus’s fasting.
In Genesis, the flood which destroyed the earth was brought about by 40 days and 40 nights of rainfall.
The Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the land promised to them by God.
Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai.
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