Ash Wednesday - From Sunday Insert

Ash Wednesday - From Sunday Insert

Ash Wednesday

            This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday the first day of the Lenten Season.  People sometimes wonder, why we do this strange thing with ashes one day a year. 

            Admittedly Ash Wednesday is strange, it is different from everything else we do.  But that is by design, to mark that we are moving into a new season - a season of penance, of reflection, of self examination, and a season which hopefully helps us turn towards and return to God.

            The center of the Ash Wednesday liturgy is the Imposition of Ashes, the time when we come forward and the pastor takes the ashes, makes the sign of the cross on your forehead and says "Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return".

            The phrase that the pastor speaks is the center of this liturgy.  The words are reminding us, rather starkly, that we are all going to die.  We are mortal, and without God and what God has done for us in Christ Jesus - when our lives end we would go into the ground, and become nothing but the dust of the earth.   We are being reminded that on our own we have NO HOPE.  Our destiny without Jesus is death and destruction.

So REMEMBER - the words tell us - You are dust and without Jesus Christ all you would be is dust. 

            But also notice that as the pastor speaks these words they make the sign of the cross on your forehead.  It is the cross that makes all of the difference.  On the cross Jesus died so that you and I might have life.  Our life is bought with the life of Jesus, our eternal life is bought with the sacrifice that God made in Jesus Christ.  You are dust - but because of God and because of the sacrifice through the cross - you who are dust will rise and will live with Jesus Christ.

            That brings us to the last question people usually ask about Ash Wednesday which is "Why do we use ashes in the first place?"

            The answer is that ashes are an ancient sign of repentance and of one who is in mourning for their sins.  Throughout the Old Testament we see people who are praying to God to forgive them for their misdeeds, and their failings.  Usually these people clothe themselves in sackcloth and cover their head with ashes.  It is a way of demonstrating great repentance and calling for God's mercy.

            So there is a symbolism of repentance and turning from sin in ashes themselves.  That is what the entire season of Lent is about.  Turning from sin and praying for God's forgiveness. 

            What is special about the ashes that we use for Ash Wednesday is that tradition holds (and this is what we do in our parish) that the ashes are made by burning the dried palm fronds from the previous year's Palm Sunday service.

            Think of the symbolism in this act.  We have the ashes from the palms that were used to sing, Hosanna in the Highest - Lord Save Us.  The palms that we held and remembered when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, knowing that he rode into Jerusalem on his way to the cross, and through the cross and his death - he does save us.

            When we receive the ashes - we are then getting a combination of meanings.  They are given to us in the sign of the cross (which saves us), they are the ashes of the palm fronds which reminded us of the time when Jesus rode into Jerusalem (to save us) and they are tied to the ancient signs of repentance and praying for God's mercy.

            There is a lot in there, if you have more questions please feel free to ask me, and may God bless you as we begin our Lenten journey together.

In Christ

Pr. Mike

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