My Journey with Ash Wednesday
This coming Wednesday, February 10th, beginning 7 PM, we are planning a first for Atlanta Westside, an Ash Wednesday service. I previously wrote about what Ash Wednesday is and how it begins the season of Lent. If you have not read that entry, you can do so here.
This week, I simply want to share out of my own experiences and reflections why I find Ash Wednesday and Lent worth observing. I hope, after reading these two blog posts, you will consider coming to the service if you haven't planned to do so already.
Many of you know that I spent 12 years with Redeemer Church of Knoxville. A few years into my time there, the pastors agreed to try our hand at Ash Wednesday and encouraged members to consider observing Lent. The first year, we attended a Lutheran and an Anglican service earlier in the day. We wanted to experience this service ourselves before we led others in it. Having grown up in a conservative, Evangelical tradition, I found these services, even the first one we led, to be unlike anything I had previously experienced and admittedly found a bit of discomfort with them.
Over the years, Ash Wednesday and Lent not only grew on me, but became a time of the year I valued and even needed. Why was this? Three words: ashes, fasting, and the cross.
A definitive feature of an Ash Wednesday service is to receive ashes on your forehead in the sign of the cross. Ashes serve a two-fold purpose. They remind us first of our own mortality. Out of dust we were formed, along with the breath of God, and to dust we shall return. But this was not God's intention. He made us holy and happy, to live forever with him; until we sinned and fell into misery with our first parents, Adam and Eve.
It is good to remember that death awaits me. We live in a society that spends enormous resources delaying death and in a culture that does its best to help us ignore it. I have found this annual reminder of my own mortality to be a sort of reset button. To reset my expectations. To re-evaluate priorities. Am I making the best use of the time I have been given?
The ashes also call me to repent. There is a long and storied use of ashes in the Scriptures and in ancient civilization. Ashes symbolize mourning and brokenness. Given my pride and ongoing struggle with self-sufficiency, it has been good to take time each year, by God's grace, to feel the weight of my sin and remember how much I need change and renewal.
Honestly, this is my least favorite part of Lent. It reveals so much about my heart and life. It's not just that I don't like going without food. I don't like going without pretty much anything. While we could get hung up here on fasting in general, let me offer the following: Fasting is simply a way of practicing limits.
Ash Wednesday and Lent have exposed the deep and insatiable hunger I have for more. And this is part of what makes this season so counter to most of our experiences. We live in a day and age that tries to sell us the idea that we can have it all. And this is one of the bigger lies of modern life.
Ash Wednesday and Lent call me to remember and embrace limitations. Limits with time and resources, food and money. Limits with relationships and work, today and tomorrow.
This would all be nothing more than a religious observance and mere human activity if Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent did not point us to Jesus and his cross, which they do.
Without question, my favorite holiday is Easter. I love to celebrate the Festival of the Resurrection of the Son of God. This was not always so. Christmas was tops to me, and Easter far down the list. Keeping a holy Lent has deepened my understanding of Jesus' passion and death for my sin, and thereby made his resurrection all the more sweet.
And that is why I commend Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent to you. As you explore your own mortality, remember your limits, and are humbled anew by your absolute need for the Son of God himself to make atonement for your sin, I believe you will come to treasure this opportunity to draw nearer to Jesus through repentance and faith. After all, this season is one way God can call us from the winter of sin and death to the spring of God's renewing love in and though Jesus, our Lord and Savior.