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.