Summary: Ash Wednesday Sermon

Ash Wednesday


Psalm 51:2-5


2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus who is the Christ. Amen

Ash Wednesday begins our Lenten journey. A journey that leads us through the season of Lent, to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and then finally to the Easter Resurrection.

Along this journey we will see the grace and love that God has for us through His son Jesus Christ. A love that transforms us into what God had intended for us to be all along.

And part of that journey needs us to realize who we are. We are not gods, we are not perfect, we are not what God intended for us to be. We are sinners.

On this Ash Wednesday we need to realize just that fact. We are sinners in need of God’s grace. Without God we are nothing.

Someone once said:

The difference between God and us is seen in the mud. God molded the mud,blew on it and created life. We mold the mud, blow on it, and end up with---mud. We like to play God. We like to pretend that we are as wise and powerful as God. But we still end up with mud.

We still end up with lives that fall short of God’s expectation of us.

We need to be as honest with ourselves as the writer of the Psalm as he says:

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

The ashes of Ash Wednesday remind of our sinfulness before God.

A pastor wrote:

" The first thing the ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us of is WHO we are. As the sign of the cross is traced on your head, the first mark is in the shape of a capital "I." An "I" that stands for someone who is uniquely "me." Me with all my strengths and weaknesses. With all my talents and all my sins.

It’s the "I" that also separates me from God. The capital "I" that forms part of the cross etched into my forehead is also the "I" that stands in the middle of my "sin" -; that state of being separated from God. The cross of ashes etched into our forehead reminds us of our uniqueness, of who we are, and of how we stand in need of God’s grace.

The ash cross on our forehead not only reminds us who we are, it also reminds us WHOSE we are. In imposing the ashes, the vertical stroke of the capital "I" is followed by the horizontal stroke, which crosses out the "I." The "I" that is crossed out is the "I" that leads to feelings of alienation from God. It is as if in the horizontal stroke the loving arms of Christ are stretched out to welcome me back home. The wiping out of the "I" that separates me from God also gives me the freedom and ability to reach out to my brothers and sisters. I am reminded of whose I am as I am held in the arms of my savior and as I reach out in solidarity with my brothers and sisters in Christ. " 1

The capital "I" is the sinful part of me that wants to play God but can only make mud. The capital "I" is the part of me that during this Lenten season I must acknowledge as the sinful self, so that the redeeming miracle might engulf me with all of its splendor.

For if I do not see my sinfulness, then I cannot accept the grace of God through Christ which died on the cross for me and rose on Easter so that I might have eternal life.

"The ashes of Lent do indeed remind us of our human frailty,of our mortality.But they also remind us that God takes us just as we are,frail and human and prone to sin,but also recoverable,forgivable,forgiven.Lent is a time to sweep the debris from our lives, to wash down the walls of our souls.It is not tidy.

One of my favorite Lenten resources reminds us that "Our windows need washing,our temples need cleansing,and the earth itself needs a good bath....Winter doesn’t leave without blustery battles that push things over and mess things up and even break things.Lent,if we honestly face its fury,will leave the landscape littered with bits and pieces of ourselves."2 3

Ash Wednesday begins the process of cleansing our lives so that the miracle of the resurrection might begin anew in us. Today is the day that we must acknowledge that we do need a good bath. We need the rains God’s grace, of his forgiveness to wash over us, so that we can stand in the redeeming light of Easter.

We need to let the horizontal stroke of the cross wipe clean the "I" which wants to be in charge. We need to surrender ourselves to God so that "I" can be cleansed and redeemed.

A pastor tells this Ash Wednesday story which I think tells us all about the Ashes of this Wednesday.

" Avery - a quiet but faithful member of the Church who was always there.

He was not a tall man, but he was an imposing person.

Avery had a larger than average totally bald head, and it broad and well shaped so as to be the envy of all of us men. It was Avery who helped me get a more satisfying perspective on Lent. But this will become clear later.

This seemed the perfect time to try out the Lenten services in my new book, "From Ashes to Fire."

We followed the suggestions in the book. First the ushers passed out slips of paper on which the congregation was invited to write down some past sin, or some harmful habit that they would like to be forgiven for or delivered from.

Then these were collected and burned ceremoniously in a metal basket. Then these were mixed with darker ashes burned from palm branches - and now for my first experience at the imposition of ashes.

As the people knelt across the altar, each worshiper received a cross marked on his or her brow.

However, I soon knew I was in trouble. Many women were wearing a flip hairstyle with their hair pulled across their forehead, leaving no space for the mark.

As I struggled to find a place, sometimes the ladies would lift their hair and make room to put the mark on the forehead. But then it might partially disappear when the hair was released. Even the men had extra long hair. This was not going as I had expected. I was sweating profusely.

Then, moving to the middle of the last group, I saw Avery and that magnificent large, bald head - an oasis in the desert - a giant canvas on which to portray the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness.

My eyes lighted up. Happiness welled up in my soul. It was a struggle not to laugh out loud with joy, and from the stark contrast to the stingy spaces I had been dealing with.

After standing for a moment gazing down at the greatest opportunity any one could ever dream of for the imposition of ashes, it became clear that I was free to draw as large as I wished. I was not even limited to the forehead - his whole head was an inviting space.

With great abandon, the cross was drawn across that vast expanse - manifold times larger than any that had gone before.

Then, triumphantly and with great joy, I turned to the congregation and pointed to the cross I had just drawn. They celebrated with me and broke out in applause.

After the congregation had left, I sat for long time in the Sanctuary contemplating the lesson of Avery.

It seemed as if God had been showing through the difficulties in finding room for the cross that our lives are so filled up and there are so many barriers to his touching our lives."4

As we saw in that cute story, there are all kinds of barriers in us, including hair, which can keep out the forgiveness of God.

Today on the Ash Wednesday, we need to lower those barriers and let the forgiving power of the cross enter our lives.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!


Written by Pastor Tim Zingale February 12, 2007

1 Steve Jackson NewSong Community Church Cumming GA 300-40

2 Peter Mazar,A Lent Sourcebook,

3 A Sermon Preached by The Reverend Gale W.Robb The House of Hope Presbyterian Church Saint Paul,Minnesota

4 Rev. W. T.(Bill) Reynolds, Assistant to the Pastors Fairlington U.M.C.,Alexandria, Va.