Dust, Death and Discipleship
An Invitation to a Lenten Journey
So what is Ash Wednesday and why have a worship service on it? And what does this have to do with loving God or following Jesus? These are good questions!
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. Lent comes from the Latin word that means “to lengthen”. In Spring, the days begin to get longer and the nights shorter as we move away from the cold, darkness of Winter and into the warm, light of Spring. Lent is the 40 day season (Sundays not included!) that marks the spring time of the church, wherein God’s people move towards Easter. So Lent is a period in which we prepare to enter the desert with Jesus and move with him towards Jerusalem, the cross and the tomb.
In Lent, Christians also place a special emphasis on repentance and renewal. Renewal and refreshment is something for which we all long. Repentance is something we say we value. But we often find it more easy to talk about these things and not really get around to working on them or experiencing them very deeply. The season of Lent gives us a rich opportunity to see our sin more clearly and to apprehend God’s mercy in Christ more dearly. We can do this only by God’s grace and his Spirit’s helping presence. We also do this in the community of sinners who are being redeemed by his grace and invite any who desire to journey with us to come along.
Ash Wednesday then marks the first of these 40 days. If you’re wondering why 40 days? We look to Christ’s forty day fast in the desert (Matt. 4:2) where he was tried and tested. Jesus bids us to take up our crosses and follow him. If you’re wondering why a Wednesday? This penitential season is fixed to Easter and is determined by counting forty days back from Easter (excluding Sundays, which remain “feast” days), until the 40th day is reached, which is Ash Wednesday.
The aim of any Ash Wednesday worship is threefold: (1) to meditate on our mortality, sinfulness, and need of a Savior; (2) to renew our commitment to daily repentance in the Lenten season and in all of life; and (3) to remember with confidence and gratitude that Christ has conquered death and sin by his cross.
One of the outward signs employed in an Ash Wednesday service is the imposition of ashes. This has been a central part of the worship service on Ash Wednesday and has a long history in biblical and church traditions. In Scripture ashes or dust symbolize our frailty or death (Gen. 18:27), sadness or mourning (Esther 4:3), judgment (Lam. 3:16), and repentance (Jon. 3:6). All these images are caught up in the church’s use of ashes as a symbol appropriate for Lent.
Ashes help us remember that we are but dust. We mourn our sins. Ashes also remind us of the crucible of Christ’s passion. On the cross, Jesus experienced unimaginable suffering and death. On the cross, we see God’s judgment for sin. Ash Wednesday and Lent invite us to have a true sense of our sin and apprehend the rich and abundant mercy of God in Christ. Therefore, let us remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return, but also that we are dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ. The ashes are placed upon us in the shape of the cross, reminding us that the cross of Christ is our only hope to be freed of sin’s curse and to experience live anew.
If you attend the Ash Wednesday service, you are not required or expected to receive the ashes, you are simply invited to do so if you desire to outwardly express these spiritual realities in this way. There will be other aspects of the service that will engage your heart and mind as well.
If you are able, we’d love to see you on Ash Wednesday at 1255 Collier. This service is family friendly and is a terrific service to invite others to engage in, especially those who are curious or interested in Christ and Christianity.
Yours in Christ,