Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the 40-day season of Lent, during which many Christians around the world will abstain from certain foods or practices as an act of self-discipline. For some, that will mean 40 days without chocolate or Facebook while others may abstain from gossip or complaining.
But there's a deeper significance to the Lenten fast that Rev. Broderick Greer says we miss when we make it "just another self help routine." The reverend, who serves as curate at Grace-St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Memphis, Tennessee, released a YouTube video on Tuesday encouraging people of faith to use the religious holiday as an opportunity for social change.
The video, titled "Rend," draws from a passage in the Bible's book of Joel that reads: "Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God."
It's a passage frequently read on Ash Wednesday that reminds Christians to rend, or tear, more than just their material goods in a sign of devotion.
"The prophetic voice is calling on them.... to make a shift in the innards," Greer told The Huffington Post.
So what does that mean for the Lenten fast?
"Ideally, Lent is a season in which the Church can imagine for itself how God might be inviting us to alter more than our chocolate intake," Greer said.
"Maybe God is inviting us to reimagine systems of impoverishment, white supremacy, sexism and transantogonism. Maybe God is inviting us to fill the void of chocolate with justice for black and brown lives."
Theologian Jake Erickson made a similar argument in a recent blog on The Huffington Post. Lent, he wrote, has become a season of "sacrificial gimmicks... like vaguely pious, individualistic, New Year's resolutions." But it doesn't have to be that way.
Over the last few years, Erickson said he's adopted more contemplative practices to fill the 40 days, exploring concepts like anger and justice.
"Lent has become a space to imagine the ambiguities, fragilities and rich bonds of relationship -- with others, with the planet, with my mysterious self, with my own theological traditions," Erickson wrote.
However you "fill the void," as Greer said, during Lent, he encouraged Christians to remember:
"At its worst, Ash Wednesday is just another list of prohibitions or potential occasions for shame. At its best, Ash Wednesday is the Church's way of reminding us that we are infinitely loved and forgiven by God in Christ."
Check out Rev. Greer's video below on the deeper meaning of Lent:
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