Summary: observance of Ash Wednesday
HEY, YOU HAVE DIRT ON YOUR FACE!
This Wednesday, we begin the church season of Lent, a time of reflection as we wait for the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. This forty days begin after Shrove Tuesday, a day when we stuff our faces and tummies with all the sweets and our favorite foods. Then during Lent we ‘give up’ something; we give our favorite food or drink up so that we can suffer as Jesus suffered prior to Easter.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten Season. Ash Wednesday is the day that we are marked with just a little ashes; we do this by choice.
Just a little ashes - that's all it is.
And what are ashes? They are the product of burning something away. They are what is left over after fire passes over or through something. They are the waste after the heat and light are gone.
So why do we put This (for lack of a better word) dirt on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday? Where did This strange tradition come from and what does it mean?
Well, these ashes are a symbol – like so much in our services. The Bible tells us that
"from the dust we came and to the dust we shall return" (Genesis 3:19).
We are told that God formed us from dust of the earth and breathed life into that dust. Without This breath or Spirit of God we would be just like these ashes: lifeless.
In Biblical times it was common for people who were mourning to dress in rough clothing and put ashes on their heads. Hence the expression, "Sack cloth and ashes." However, instead of all over our heads, we put a cross of ashes on our foreheads.
These ashes are also a symbol of repentance. They symbolizes the beginning of Lent - a time of reflecting on our shortcomings, our limitations, our failings.
These ashes are also a symbol that we are sealed in Christ. When we are baptized, the priest seals us with the sign of the cross. This cross of ashes is also a reminder of that same baptismal mark of Christ. The Book of Revelation tells of an angel marking the faithful so that when the end of time comes they would be protected. The mark was a mark of ownership – of belonging to God.
The ashes are from burned palm branches – the palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday and a symbol again. The palms are a symbol of victory. We remember the victorious ride of Jesus on Palm Sunday leading quickly to his death. With these ashes we remember that our victories are but ashes before the glory of God. These may be just a few ashes, but as you see, they mean a lot.
These may be just a few ashes but they mean a lot. They may be seen as a symbol of our need for God. That without the teaching and examples of Jesus, without his resurrection, we would be nothing but dust and ashes. If they are a symbol of our repentance and mourning, they are also a way of showing on the outside world if we truly keep our Lent, what is happening on the inside. And that we are once again striving to be like our Savior.
Yet in the midst of our repentance we remember we are forgiven and marked as Christ's own. The very burning away of our sin by the fire of God's love makes us God's own. And as His own we are children of God and will overcome death through the cross of Jesus.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. But Lent is not a merely forty days of deprivation and reflection. It is preparation for truly participating in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is about dying to an old identity defined by our culture, our traditions, our habits and even our families, and being born into a new identity centered in the spirit of God. It means dying to an old way and being born into a new way of being. . . being centered in God.
It is about dying to deadness, that daily routine of our lives that we trudge through, oblivious to the needs of other and the call of our Lord. It is a time of reminding ourselves of God’s love and God’s reality. It is a time to be lifted out of our confinement, removing those feelings burden and mortality, of fear and doubt.
These ashes that will be placed on our foreheads remind us that we are mortal. These ashes remind us we have only one earthly life.
How do we spend these forty days of Lent?
• We have forty days to open ourselves to God who created and loves us.