Summary: Ash Wednesday Sermon teaching about why we use ashes on ash wednesday.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." 4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'" 7 Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." 10 Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
What do you think of when I say the words Mardi Gras? The mere mention of these two words usually convey thoughts of raucous celebrations, beads flying through the air, ear-to-ear grins plastered on the faces of millions of revelers parading through places like Bourbon Street in New Orleans!
But that isn’t how it all started! It was started a long time ago to remind us to take time and celebrate the goodness of God. They celebrated “Fat Tuesday” by eating richer, fatty foods before beginning their time of fasting during Lent. Some would say that it was a time for good Christians to get all of their sinning out of the way before Lent, some say it is a time to sin big so you have something to feel really sorry about during Lent. But the I believe that the real theology behind it all is focused on remembering that there is a time to celebrate in the Lord… but there is also a time to reflect… to fast… to pray… to prepare. So, we begin Lent with a celebration… and guess how we end Lent! (With another celebration.)
Tonight marks the beginning of our time of preparation. It is a 40 day journey leading up to Easter. This practice comes directly from our Scripture text this evening when Christ began his ministry with a 40 day walk into the desert. During this time he prayed and fasted to prepare himself.
For him, it was a time of contemplation, reflection, and preparation. By observing Lent, many people chose to join Jesus on this journey. While most of us will probably choose NOT to go off into a desert to fast and pray, several will choose to give something up… to sacrifice something… to deprive ourselves so that we can contemplate on the meaning of Lent, reflect on Christ’s sacrifice, and prepare for the night we will remember Christ’s death… and prepare for the celebration to come at Easter.
Tonight, our 40 day journey begins! Now… if you went to your calendar and counted the days between now and Easter, you would come up with 46! Does anyone know why? It is because in our Western theology… we “skip” Sundays since every Sunday we continue to “celebrate” Christ’s joyful resurrection. A celebration to start… celebrations mixed in… and a celebration at the end!
But, before we go overboard focusing on the celebrations, we need to remember that tonight is not about celebrating… it is about ASHES! I’ve been asked more than once… “Why Ashes?” Isn’t it just a Catholic thing we Presbyterians have stolen? Truth be told… no, it is not. It’s a Jewish thing… a Jesus thing we’ve kept going.
As I’ve already said… Lent is a time of putting ourselves into the proper mindset… and that mindset is knowing just how much we NEED Jesus Christ. We are broken! We are sinful! We are imperfect… and we need to remember... that without Christ we are hopeless! Without Christ… we are dead! Therefore, especially tonight… our thoughts are focused on mourning and on penitence! Now… here is where we get “Ashes” from.
The Jewish society of the Old Testament and of Jesus’ time relied very heavily on wood fires for heating and cooking, which meant that keeping ashes under control was a major housekeeping task. Then as now, if a person was preoccupied with something serious, they didn’t always tend to the housekeeping—it’s the least of their concerns. Imagine that there is a death in the family. A friend stopping by to pay their respects might gently say, “Did you know you have ashes on your face?”