we have moved from ordinary time on the church calendar to lent, which began with ash wednesday. i don't know if' it's odd for protestants to observe ash wednesday in a demonstrative manner with ashes on the forehead, but our church does. we have an ash wednesday service complete with a time of worship followed by a message, then communion and the imposition of ashes.
so why the ashes? what is the significance? and lent? what's up with that?
i'm no theologian, so what follows is what i've gleaned from my journey thus far…
for me, ashes represent death. mourning. sin. my fallenness. my sin nature. my ability to forget who i belong to in a blink of an eye so i can turn to my god-ness and personal idol factory.
but the cross on my forehead also symbolizes life. because i belong to Jesus, i can rest in the victory of the cross. my sin separates me from a holy, perfect God. i can never atone for my sin enough to outweigh the sin i continue to live. it's a hole so deep, i can never fill it up because in shoveling, i am creating yet another hole. it's a fruitless, endless activity. i will never be good enough for God.
have mercy on me, Lord!
blot out my transgressions…
no amount of contrition and regret can make God turn a blind eye to my sin. that is counter to who God is, and his holiness would not let him.
in his infinite mercy, he answers my call with the cross at calvary.
this is Gospel Grace.
i come, repentant of my ability to screw up on a daily basis. i come humbly, admitting my sin, my self-centeredness, my unworthiness. but i must ask myself, does my heart really grieve over disappointing my heavenly father?
i come to the foot of the cross, where the skankiness of my sin meets God's wrath and His mercy.
thankfully, God gives me not what i deserve, but what i so desperately need…
reconciliation is a painful experience…yet joyous at the same time…because God is merciful. he gave his son to take on my filthy sin. he gives me a new heart and makes all things new.
to me, this season of lent is not a call to suffer as Christ suffered on the cross. it's not a contest to see who can give up the biggest vice for forty days. it's not an outward show of how much i'm sacrificing during this season. this is an opportunity for me to take a real, thoughtful look at my insides as i journey to the cross of resurrection day. it's a time to celebrate the ongoing mercy of our Lord as i go from being dead in sin to alive in Christ.