Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
(Psalm 51, NIV)
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. With the declaration of these words I mark a cross on each person’s forehead at the Ash Wednesday service. Little gray crosses of ash smudged above the brow signal the beginning of Lent. Lent is to Easter what Advent is to Christmas. It is a time of repentance, introspection, prayer and meditation. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, it is a period of forty days in which we seek to prepare our hearts anew for the events of Holy Week, of Good Friday, and Easter - and all they mean. There are certain spiritual exercises often used foster self-examination - like prayer, fasting, scripture reading.
In the Christian tradition, the ashes represent the believer’s attitude of repentance and humility before God, as well as the realization and confession of our human sinful state even after our conversion and baptism. At the heart of it, is the admission that we are all sinners in need of the grace and forgiveness of God. Confession, true confession of who we are before God is our starting place. The purpose is not to make us feel bad, to put us down or to make us think more lowly of ourselves than we should. Far from that, it is to free us from sin and guilt, “it is therapy for our souls!” (Bass Mitchell) “Suppressed sin, like suppressed steam, is dangerous. Confession is the safety-valve...” (Leslie Weatherhead, Psychology in the Service of the Soul (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1930), p.92.
The gritty cross is also a reminder that you belong to God and that God loves you very much. So much that he sent his Son to die on the cross for you. We remember what it means to be a follower of Christ, to be sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. We remember that we have only a limited time on this earth to make a difference in the lives of those we meet, to show forth the love and light of God in dark world.
Our ashes come from the burning of the palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. They are mixed with olive oil because it symbolizes God’s intention to restore us to wholeness. The good news about wearing the sign of the ashes is that we witness our belief in God’s grace and forgiveness.
Prayer:God of Grace, you have the right to judge us in your wrath, but you choose instead to appeal to us through your astonishing love. May we have hearts of confession to receive your great love. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
In His Word,
Reverend Dee Dee