Today I sat in the hall at Point Loma, listening to Anne Lamott talk about, among a myriad other topics, how she loves Ash Wednesday. She read a chapter about spreading her mother's ashes with her family that was (like most of her writing) hilarious and heartwrenching within the same paragraph, but reminds her of Ash Wednesday and forgiveness and sin.
Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite Holy Days. For me, I appreciate it because it's REAL. Our sin is a real thing that we (and especially I) like to sweep under the carpet and pretend it doesn't really happen. But on Ash Wednesday, I wear the proof of my sin right on my forehead, right where I am marked with that cross of ashes that claims me as Christ's. I can't hide from my sin when it's represented smack dab on my forehead. It's almost freeing -- knowing that I am faced head-on by my sin this day especially, and I NEED Lent.
Yep, I NEED Lent. I need 40 days to pray more, meditate more, read and study the Scriptures more, and to confess my sin more. I love Lent, and especially Ash Wednesday. My sin is real, but forgiven through that same cross of Christ represented on my forehead. So tonight I headed to Victoria House to meet up with eleven other people of Alpine Anglican to be anointed with ashes and to celebrate Communion. To read Psalm 51 together, on our knees, from our hearts, was cleansing and beautiful. To be marked with the ashes, hearing "Remember O Man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" as the ashes are marked in the form of the cross on my forehead is humbling yet freeing.
Last year I wrote up a blurb for a flyer on Ash Wednesday and Lent for our evangelical church that doesn't officially keep Lent. Pastor Steve added more to it, and took other stuff out, and I thought that overall, it was helpful for those who hadn't heard of Ash Wednesday and Lent (most of our church). Here it is:
Irenaeus (175AD - 195AD), mentions the idea of spending some time fasting in
preparation of Easter. This developed into the observance of Lent (Council
of Nicea, 325AD). Lent is the forty days (not including Sundays as they are
always days of celebrating the Resurrection) preceding Easter. The forty
days of Lent are used to parallel the forty days that Jesus spent in the
wilderness, fasting and praying, before starting His earthly ministry. "Ash
Wednesday" has been historically recognized as the day to initiate the
period of fasting and repentance known as Lent. It's called "Ash Wednesday"
because ashes were traditionally used to mark the foreheads or hands of
those who attended church on that day.
In the Old Testament, ashes are a sign of humility and repentance of sin.
(See 2 Sam. 13:19 and 15:2; Esther 4:1-3; Job 42:6, Jer. 6:26 ). Jesus
mentions repenting in sackcloth and ashes in Matthew 11:21. A mark is a sign
of ownership; in Ezekiel 9:4-6, a mark on the foreheads of the people
provided protection to those who served God. Therefore, a mark of ashes was
used to show repentance of our sins and complete ownership by God.
God calls us to do spiritual housecleaning every day. Our spiritual life is
a day by day (in fact, moment by moment) walk with our Heavenly Father.
However, this day can serve as a good reminder of the need for us to take a
spiritual inventory. Take this occasion to come quietly and reverently
before the Lord, offering your life to Him to examine. Ask Him where He
wants to work. Ask Him what He wants to change. Maybe there are some
patterns of thinking and habits that you have fallen into that need
reevaluated; maybe God is calling you to some new habits and a new manner of
investing your precious time so it can reap eternal benefits.
Set aside some time and let the Lord work in your heart. Then, as the Lord
leads, pray about not only what to do, but also, how the Lord would have you
implement the ideas into your life. An added value is for each of us to
share with one another what God is doing in our hearts. In this way, we can
develop accountability and have partners in the journey who can hold us up
May we all humble ourselves before our Lord and Savior during these forty days before Easter, preparing ourselves for the coming of His kingdom.