Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, which is the beginning of a countdown to Easter. It is not a fixed date like Christmas, but always occurs forty-six days before the Sunday set aside to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In ancient times ashes were used to express mourning. There are many Biblical references to people sitting in sackcloth and ashes. In doing so they were presenting themselves before God in great sorrow.
On Ash Wednesday, we see a token adherence to this practice. Ashes in the shape of a cross are placed on the forehead of Christ-followers. Traditionally the ashes used are gathered from the burnt palm branches of the previous year's Palm Sunday.
There will be services of reflection at churches in the Dayton area and all across the nation. It is a time to contemplate our transgressions in the context of God’s forgiveness and grace. What's Up With Grace?
The ash of the cross on the forehead is an outward mark of an inner work of God in our hearts. If it is not representative of grief over our sin and acceptance of God’s forgiveness and grace, then it is nothing but a useless religious ritual.
Both individually and corporately, the body of Christ has a responsibility to take sin seriously. We must repent of the naked hypocrisy of our lifestyle choices; we must cry out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
In truth, it is only as we acknowledge the depth of our own spiritual poverty that we can possibly receive any of heaven’s rewards; it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
There is no point in attempting to deny the pharisaical traits of our character given the fact that we have brothers and sisters around the world hurting and suffering for lack of material goods while the Church in affluent North America exists in comfort and material ease.
What's Up With Spiritual Wealth?
The Apostle John asked a question that ought to disturb us: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”
As we seek to live out our faith in a genuine manner let’s understand that the prophet Isaiah gave us a tremendous challenge: “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
On this Ash Wednesday, may genuine sorrow for sin result in the mysterious working of God in our hearts and lives. May we be people who do justice and love mercy.