From the Pastor's Desk
Ashes and Repentance”
"Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:6
It is hard to believe that Lent and Easter are right around the corner! It seems like we just put the Christmas decorations away and now we turn our focus from the celebration of the birth of Jesus to the remembrance of His death and the celebration of His resurrection. The preparation for the two holidays is significantly different.
Advent, the preparation weeks prior to Christmas, is a time when we re-read the prophecies of the coming Messiah found in the Old Testament. There is a hope in those prophecies that the Messiah will finally come and free those who have been waiting and longing for His arrival. The birth of Jesus fulfills that longing and waiting for those who recognize Him as that promised Messiah.
Lent, on the other hand, is a time in which we are called to examine ourselves in preparation for the remembrance of the death and resurrection of that same Messiah. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for all who believe, He took our sins to the cross with Him, and through His resurrection we have the ability to be raised with Him to eternity. Though nothing in our own lives qualifies us for heaven, Lent provides a time of self-examination and contemplation. The self-examination is a time to be honest about our lives, recognizing the sins in our lives with the hope that this recognition will lead to repentance. The contemplation centers around the amazing grace and mercy we have received in spite of our sinful nature.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. This year, that day is March 1st and we will be having a special worship service on that evening at 6:00pm with the imposition of ashes. But why would Lent begin this way and why the ashes, you might ask. From the Old Testament on, ashes were often used as a sign of despair or repentance. During some of the darkest moments in Jewish Old Testament history, key figures, or entire populations, would cover themselves in dust and ashes to symbolically show their fear and despair. Likewise, as Job did in the referenced scripture verse above, people also covered themselves with dust and ash to symbolically demonstrate their deep repentance when they were honest enough to recognize their own sins.
Therefore, because the season of Lent is supposed to be a time of self-reflection, fasting and repentance, it is appropriate that Lent would begin symbolically with ashes. During the Ash Wednesday service, a time of reflection, special scripture passages and music, confession and pardon are experienced by the participants. The service only begins the season of Lent. For the next forty days (not counting Sundays which are “mini” Easters), believers are reminded of their sinful nature and the fact that none of us are worthy of such wonderful grace and mercies bestowed upon us by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That solemn time of reflection and emphasis on the crucifixion of Jesus makes the celebration of Easter all the more wonderful.
Typically, a rather small number of people participate in the Ash Wednesday service. Some may see it as too “Catholic” but Protestant churches have held Ash Wednesday services for centuries. Other people may have different reasons for not participating. However, if anyone chooses to not participate because they are under the delusion that somehow repentance is not required of them, they are sadly mistaken. ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This year, let us all take time to reflect upon our lives and be honest about our sins and shortcomings. Let us decide to enter the season of Lent truly sorry and repentant for how we fail the Lord continually as we try to serve Him and live lives that reflect our love for Him. Let the ashes truly be a symbol of our desire to turn from our sinful ways toward new lives in Christ.