A Lenten Adventure - Day 1: Ash Wednesday
Wednesday, March 5 2014
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” These are the words said by the priest or pastor as he puts the cross of ashes on the forehead of his parishioners on Ash Wednesday.
According to the church year, today is Ash Wednesday. Today is the first day of Lent – a period of 40 days that begins today and continues until Holy Saturday, not including Sundays. It is a time to quiet the soul, to reflect, to meditate, to fast and to pray, to draw nearer to God. It is a time to prepare the mind, the heart and the spirit for the upcoming celebration of the Passion, the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The number 40 is significant, because it is a special number in the Bible, mentioned 146 times. It signals a preparation for something special, many times including trials and tribulations. It signals a time of waiting for certain promises to be fulfilled. Almost always the number 40 has to do with a salvation event.
Lent is a time for reflecting upon the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross on behalf of humankind, as He paid the price for our sins with His own death, offering us forgiveness and grace, and opening for us the door to heaven and to eternal life together with Him. And Lent is a time when we are invited to ask some personal questions: what is God asking me to surrender during this time? – and on the other hand, what is God asking me to add to my life during this time?
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” “Remember …” In the busyness of our daily living, we so often forget and we need to be reminded, to remember. And to remember what? To remember, while we are living in the fullness of life, that we were created from the dust of the earth, and that we will return to the dust of the earth when we die. That is how we ought to begin our Lenten pilgrimage, today on Ash Wednesday – remembering from what and where we have come and to what and where we will one day return.
Today’s ashes are a sign that reminds us of our mortality. Today’s ashes remind us of our innate sin and our deep need of God. Today’s ashes remind us that only through Jesus’ gift of grace, His life given for us on Calvary’s Cross, can we have forgiveness for sin, abundant and eternal life. Today’s ashes encourage us to draw near to that Cross, to fall to our knees and to surrender our lives to Him who died on that Cross, completely assured of the hope of our own resurrection.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24,25)
Choosing to draw near to the cross is “life” – choosing life without the cross is “death”. But drawing near to the Cross is difficult because, although we are offered everything, we are also asked to surrender everything. Taking up our cross and carrying it is complicated. A cross is very heavy, is very crude and splintery, and is very impractical to move about. A cross burdens the shoulders, bows the head low, and breaks the heart. Following Jesus with a cross upon one’s back – how hard that is! What a denial of our very selves, of everything that we desire! No wonder we would prefer to leave our cross behind, our cross and everything that it demands of us …
Let’s pray that today, Ash Wednesday, the first day of the 40 days of Lent, we would choose to make decisions of personal denial, surrender and dedication that please God – not because He needs our sacrifices, but because we need to make sacrifices in order to remember to follow Him more closely. Today, let’s commit ourselves to choosing small “deaths” in our own lives, in the hope of a more profound intimacy with God and lives that are more set apart and holy. Today, let’s confess our enormous need for God, our desire to have more of Him in our lives – let’s empty ourselves of ourselves, making room for Him in our hearts and in our daily routines, so that we might be filled with His fullness.
¡May God bless us all on this road and this pilgrimage towards the Cross of Christ that today we have begun together!
(Ideas taken from Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus, written by Thomas R. Steagald)
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