Summary: This sermon answers three questions; 1. What is Ash Wednesday? 2. How do you observe Ash Wednesday? 3. Spiritual value?
What Is Ash Wednesday?
A. What Is Ash Wednesday? If your experience is anything like mine, you’ve not asked this question nor even cared about the answer.
1. When Mel Gibson released the epic blockbuster movie “the Passion of Christ,” on Ash Wednesday in 2004, suddenly many
evangelical Protestants woke up to Ash Wednesday’s significance. Since then, Ash Wednesday was brought to a new level of consciousness in the minds of many Christians besides Catholics.
2. When one of the Catholic teachers came to LHS on the Thursday following Ash Wednesday with a big, black cross painted across her forehead, I thought she had been in the dusty book room shelving books.
3. Later, she told me that the Priest at St. Mark’s Catholic Church had burned last year’s Good Friday palm branches into ash. Then, as worshippers left the service he dipped his finger into the ash to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads.
4. I thought what a powerful witness. I could see her having to answer every question her students would ask about the mysterious cross emblazoned on her forehead.
5. Other than that, I really haven’t given much thought to Ash Wednesday except to learn that it is the first of the 40 days before Easter. These 40 days do not include Sundays because Sunday celebrates Jesus’ resurrection.
6. When early Christians extended the call for prayer and fasting to 40 days to consider Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins upon the cross, Sunday celebrations, the day Christ arose was not part of Lent. So, four days this week counting today, Thurs., Friday, and Sat. = 4 days + 6 weeks of 6 days before Easter Sunday = 4 + 36 = 40 days.
7. For 10 centuries, Christians have honored Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. So, as we come together tonight to do the same, we’re now part of that long procession of Christians who have stopped to commemorate the kick-off of 40 days that anticipate Good Friday and Easter. No where in the Bible are we commanded to observe Ash Wednesday as a holy day. Nor are we commanded to observe Christmas or Easter as holy days.
8. Yet, to stop to consider Jesus’ ownership of our lives, can only draw us closer to the heart of God. Also, coming here to deliver your soul to God can only enrich and inspire you to live for Him. There’s nothing in the evening news or TV shows that you’re missing tonight that could add to the inner peace and strength that God will give you by worshipping Him here in Spirit and truth.
9. In earliest centuries, Christians who repented of persistent sin had ashes sprinkled on their bodies as a sign of repentance, even as Job repented in” in dust and ashes “ (Job 42:6). Around the 10th century, all believers showed their need for repentance by having ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of a cross.
10. It would be, of course, the Catholic Church that kept the tradition alive. As Protestants, perhaps we’ve been too quick to cast off the Ash Wednesday tradition because we are wary of how easily rituals can become works that people misinterpret as steps for salvation.
B. How do we observe Ash Wednesday?
1. Of course, we’ve talked about the ashes upon the forehead to indicate that we’re sinners in need of grace. However, we haven’t mentioned the words repeated by what’s called the “imposition of ashes.” The words come from Gen. 3:19: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return. Humbling words, words to make you think of the brevity of your life and your purpose here to glorify God in all that you think, say, and do.
2. In the 90th Psalm, the only one Moses wrote, we find these words: So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. So, coming here should teach us to catch a glimpse of life for what it really is—like granulated sand dropping through an hour glass.
3. Tonight, we have no ashes to impose upon you, but we will remember the price Christ paid for our sins by partaking of the symbols of His broken body and shed blood in communion.
C. What spiritual value does Ash Wednesday have for us?
1. The thoughts you allow yourself to meditate on is where you will find the inspiration of the Holy Spirit loving you.
2. What thoughts should we be thinking? Of course, all we’ve mentioned so far should center our mind upon the Lord. But, think of the reality of these things: God created us so uniquely that no two people in the world have the same fingerprint, all of us have sinned against the very one who gave us life, we will all die and experience the grief that goes with losing those we love, and only by the grace that gives us salvation could we ever hope to escape eternal death. These are the most important issues of life—we dare not allow our lazy minds to be captured by frivolous thinking that has no connection with these realities.