Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox (March 21). Back up six weeks from Easter, then back up to the Wednesday before, and you have the season of Lent. Forty days. (If you are on your game, you know that this time period is actually forty-six days. Back out the six Sundays, which are considered free days and not part of the Lenten season, and you get to forty days.)
Forty days. Long before Rick Warren ever came on the scene, the Church has been doing this. Why forty days? This ties directly to the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry. There is also a tie-in with the forty years that Israel spent in the desert while going from Egypt to the Promised Land, though this is not played up as strongly.
Today is Ash Wednesday. If you attended an Ash Wednesday service today you probably received ashes on your forehead. The ashes are a reminder of your mortality, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return. They are also a reminder of our sin (the blackness of the ashes matches the blackness of our sin) and a sign of repentance (sackcloth and ashes are associated with repentance throughout the Bible). We grieve our sinful condition and look to the Cross, where Jesus’ death redeems us from our sin.
Welcome to Lent.