Ash Wednesday brings the strange custom of placing ashes on the forehead of Christians. This custom was not so strange in ancient cultures. People would sit in ashes as a public confession that they had done wrong, that they deserved to be punished and that they seek God’s mercy. Jesus noted this custom when he cursed two cities that did not receive him, For if the deeds of power were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes (Luke 10:13).
Ashes are a symbol of our sinful, broken, self-serving character and our desperate need for God’s mercy. Unless we acknowledge and confess our sin, God’s grace has no power, Christ’s death has no purpose. But with such confession comes the brilliant healing light of God’s love.
The most powerful (even ridiculous?) image for the use of ashes comes in the book of Jonah. The King of Nineveh heard of Jonah’s preaching on Nineveh’s impending destruction. He rose from his throne, removed his rob, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. He even declared all men and animals to be covered in sackcloth, with the hope that God would be merciful. The king showed his wisdom in this foolish behavior.
This morning I read something on a blog that took God’s mercy deeper.
With that in mind, I’ve been wrestling the last few days: Isn’t it ironic how casually we are willing to talk about God’s mercy, as if we deserve it? As if it’s owed to us? At the same time, we cringe at the idea that God might be calling us to live on less; to give some stuff up. We pile on excuse after excuse about why God would want us to live cushy, comfortable, safe lives… Yet, the God we follow wasn’t willing to cling to the glory he deserved, because he was so moved by his love for us. We, on the other hand, don’t even deserve the breath in our lungs. It’s a gift. How, then, could we ever justify our security?
How does God’s mercy impact you?