I grew up in some pretty strict, legalistic, Southern Baptist churches. As I remember them, they were really great for me. As a kid, I remember Bible drills, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and virtually nothing about the preaching. As a result, I had no idea about Ash Wednesday or Lent. I remember seeing people with ”dirt on their face,” but hadn’t a clue as to why. I never knew the story behind it and never had a clue about Lent. I’d never been to a Good Friday Service until I preached at my first in 2008. I can’t believe what all I had missed out on.
Before all my Baptist acquaintances get fired up and start emailing me regarding my orthodoxy, hang in there for a few minutes and lay that flame-thrower down. Why on earth would I wish to leave the testimony of repentance of sin solely in the hands of my Catholic and Episcopal friends? Why would I not want to engage with fellow Followers of Jesus in the worshipful reminder of my sinful humanity, the never ending love of God and reverent repetance?
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. The biblical witness of this ”ash” is found in the opening epic of the human story: “you are dust and to dust, you shall return.” In the tenth century, the use of ashes was employed in visibly reminding worshippers of their mortality as they began their Lenten “watch by the cross” concluding on Resurrection Sunday, the Day we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus the Lord. It is the way of the Cross. “Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?” (Romans 6:3).
New life with Jesus involves a daily surrendering of the old life. The first step of this spiritual journey to the Cross of Jesus invites us to acknowledge our sinful humanity by the imposition of ashes.
Traditionally, the ashes for the service are placed on each participant in the form of the Cross and the formative Scripture is repeated each time: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The imposition of ashes is preceded by a call to confession and followed by a corporate prayer of confession, calling to mind the words of Job, “I repent in dust and ashes.”
Like every worshipful gathering, here at Sugar Hill Church, Ash Wednesday is about the heart. Everything that matters is a matter of the heart. So, as an act of repentance and remembrance, we will gather on this special evening of reverent worship as we remember and repent, both personally and corporately and begin our journey to the Cross over the next 40 days of Lent.
Rather than asking you to abstain from something through the 40-days of Lent, we are inviting you into four, ten-day periods of focused, guided prayer.
Sometimes it is healthy to call into question our orthodoxy, or even our lack of orthodoxy as we seek to follow the only way to peace, through Jesus the Lord.
Maybe, just maybe, in the midst of trying to be a hip, happening, relative, hipster church, it might be really healthy to step back into the deep wonder of God’s rich and enduring love for us and remember how unworthy we are…And how grateful we should be. I think I need a bit more ash on my forehead. How about you?