"The Man of Sorrows" painted by William Dyce, c. 1860
As, when upon his drooping head
His Father's light was poured from heaven,
What time, unsheltered and unfed,
For in the wild his steps were driven,
High thoughts were with him in that hour,
Untold, unspeakable on earth.
- JOHN KEBLE
Jesus retreated into the wilderness and fasted for forty days to prepare for his ministry. It was for Him a time of contemplation, reflection, and preparation.
By observing Lent, most Christians join Jesus on His retreat. Lent consists of the forty days before Easter, not counting Sundays, because they are always the joyful celebration of the Resurrection. Therefore, the first day of Lent is always a Wednesday. In ancient times, people marked times of fasting, prayer, repentance, and remorse by placing ashes on their foreheads, as in 2nd Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1-3, Job 42:6, and Jeremiah 6:26 (see below). This scriptural custom entered the church from Judaism, and it is most appropriate on Ash Wednesday, when we begin a period of sober reflection, self-examination, and spiritual redirection. Traditionally,
the ashes for the Ash Wednesday service come from burning the palm fronds from
the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.
The Scottish painter WILLIAM DYCE was
an older contemporary of William Holman Hunt. Dyce, whose father
had been a lecturer in medicine, was a keen amateur scientist.
His painting, "The Man of Sorrows," exhibited in 1860,
alludes to contemporary studies in geology and fossils.
"And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of many colors that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying..." -
2nd Samuel 13:19
"Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes...and there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping...and many lay in sackcloth and ashes." -
"...and repent in dust and ashes." - Job 42:6
"O Daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation..." -