Summary: Ash Wednesday Sermon
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Ring around the roses, pocket full of poses, ashes, ashes we all fall down. Many of have sung this little rhyme with our children, as children or at least have heard children singing it. We sing lots of these rhymes as young children but what do they actually mean? Well this little rhyme came out of a little event here in Europe called the Black Plague. Ring around the roses. It was thought that that this disease was airborne so if you placed flowers up to your mouth it was thought that you were breathing better air. Also doctors use to put roses and poses into their pockets and bring it into the patients for them to smell since they were stuck inside. But a darker way of reading this little rhyme is that they give you the symptoms of the plague itself. Ring around the roses. One of the early signs of the plague was your face would turn pale and you would get dark rosy cheeks. Pocket full of poses. People would carry the poses around in their pockets to ward off the Black Death. Ashes? Black pile to be exact. During the last days of the plague the patient would begin to expel dry black ash. Ashes, we all know these words from the Bible, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It is probably guaranteed that someone will say those words at your funeral. We all fall down. Well we all know that eventually we will all fall down, a simple reminder that the end will come eventually.
Today is Ash Wednesday; it is the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. So if you are giving up anything for Lent this year, I hope you are doing fine thus far. We come here to celebrate Ash Wednesday for a couple of reasons. One it is a tradition past down from generation to generation of church goers. Besides that there is a real meaning behind it besides just tradition. Ash Wednesday emphasizes a dual encounter: today we confront our own mortality and confess our sins before God within the community of faith. We focus on the duel themes of sin and death but we do it in the light of God’s redeeming love in Jesus Christ.
Why do we use ashes? We place ashes on our foreheads as a sign of mortality and repentance which has a rich history behind it in both Christian and Jewish cultures, but I won’t bore you with all that. The ashes I am using today are from the palm branches of last year’s Palm Sunday. So in a time when we celebrated Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we are using now to remind us that we will all leave this life and we need repent of our sins that Christ went to Jerusalem to die for. The act of coming up to the alter and having ashes placed on your forehead is a way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation. We are saying that we know we are not worthy of the grace of God and we are asking for forgiveness of the sins we have committed.
If you think back to the gospel reading today what does Christ tell us? He tells us not to be like the hypocrites in many different ways. Christ is begging us to be humble in our acts of kindness, praying, fasting and in our material objects. God does not call us to gloat or brag about our ways we glorify God. No one likes a bragger, and neither does God.
The young seminarian was excited about preaching his first sermon in his home church. After three years in seminary, he felt adequately prepared, and when he was introduced to the congregation, he walked boldly to the pulpit, his head high, radiating self-confidence. But he stumbled reading the Scriptures and then lost his train of thought halfway through the message. He began to panic, so he did the safest thing: He quickly ended the message, prayed, and walked dejectedly from the pulpit, his head down, his self-assurance gone. Later, one of the godly elders whispered to the embarrassed young man, “If you had gone up to the pulpit the way you came down, you might have come down the way you went up.” The elder was right. God still resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
How many times have we thought we were doing the right thing and loved to tell people about it? In these verses today, Jesus is telling us be humble. To not let the left hand know what our right hand is doing. To fast, pray, and give in secret. Jesus wants us to look at our Christian actions not as something to be bragged about but something common and done without the need of the approval of others.