Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

Ashes and Water

Today, Ash Wednesday, begins the 40 days of Lent. In several Christian traditions, the placement of ashes upon one’s forehead is a reminder of our mortality and our need to repent. As Abraham spoke to Almighty God, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” Adam was made from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). We each return to the dust and ash when our bodies die and decompose. We may not like to face that fact, but the truth keeps coming back.

Ashes are also a sign of repentance, our need to turn back to God. The book of Jonah describes how the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message to turn back to God.

And Jonah cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. (Jonah 3:4-6).

The imposition of ashes also connects us to our baptism. Many Lutherans and others were baptized with water on their forehead. It was a sign of washing and renewal, of dying with Jesus and rising again to new life. Paul writes how baptism is connected to Jesus crucifixion and resurrection.

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:8-11):

The ashes are thus a reminder that we have already died in our baptism. We died to sin and corruption, and have begun to live the new life in Christ. The ashes we place on our head will eventually wash away; the promise of our baptism is not so easily removed. The Holy Spirit holds us in Christ Jesus.

Lord Jesus, let me die to sin and death that I might live with you now and forever.

The Mask of Mardi Gras

Today is Mardi Gras, the day of celebration prior to Ash Wednesday.  Tomorrow we begin Lent. As a pastor I am more mindful of Ash Wednesday, but I understand the attraction of Mardi Gras. Most of us like a good party, a reason to celebrate. Since Lent is a time of spiritual discipline, which can involve fasting or personal denial, at Mardi Gras one can “excuse” oneself from the anticipated denial by celebrating in wine and song.

One piece of Mardi Gras captured my attention this year, the use of masks. My guess is that you still do not want to be recognized during the celebration. You fear that you might do something so embarrassing that you prefer to be anonymous. But most masks are very superficial and do not truly cover your identity. It may be more of a psychological mask that allows you to behave in a way you wouldn’t otherwise.

Masks are something that come off on Ash Wednesday. The central theme of Ash Wednesday is our mortality. Adam was told after his rebellion against God, “From dust you come and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).  The imposition of ashes marks us as mortal sinners.  We may party hard today, but eventually the party ends. The grave will “unmasks” us all.

The season of Lent marches towards the cross of Jesus, where the Son of God is executed. The human rebellion against God is fully revealed. No masked will be allowed on that day.

But then God turns everything around with Easter Sunday. It is no longer masks we wear, but a new resurrected body. The shining reality of God’s mercy and love shines in every hue and color. That celebration is even bigger than Mardi Gras.

Lord Jesus, show me how to find my joy in you.

The Folly of Ashes

"From dust you come, to dust you shall return"

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?

via Perfect Choreographed Dance. « The Trees Will Clap.

How does God’s mercy impact you?