Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Formed By the Word Week 8: Ashes ~ Ash Wednesday 2022


Week 8: Ashes - Ash Wednesday 2022

Formed By the Word is being published today instead of Friday because today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lent Season, and I wanted my word this week to reflect that. Today we begin a journey of reflection and sacrifice, mourning and celebration, abstinence and engagement. Today we begin a journey that leads us to Good Friday and Easter. We set aside this season of Lent as a time of remembering the sacrifice of Christ, and in turn committing to sacrifice ourselves as well, following in His steps. We practice spiritual disciplines, not as a way to gain God's favor and holiness, but as a way to mourn our sinfulness, lest we take for granted the gift of grace through salvation in Christ. Today, if we participate in an Ash Wednesday service, we will receive ashes on our foreheads in the shape of a cross to remind us that there, on the cross, Jesus paid the price for our sin to redeem us.

"For you are dust and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:19

Throughout the Bible ashes or dust are used symbolically of mourning, death and repentance. 2 Samuel 3:19, Esther 4:1-3, Job 42:6, Ezekiel 27:30-31, Matthew 11:21 are just a few examples of how ashes/dust are used. Author Ruth Haley Barton explains the significance of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent:

"Ash Wednesday initiates a season of acknowledging our sinfulness. In very intentional ways, we invite God to search us and know us and (eventually) to lead us into resurrection life. The ashes marking our foreheads carry the same meaning contained in the Old Testament practice of covering oneself with ashes: they are an outward sign of an inward repentance and mourning as we become aware of our sin. This, too, is good for us because we live in so much denial. Facing our sin in the shadow of Christ’s cross and impending resurrection is the healthiest way to deal with our sin."

Ashes are a sign of repentance and humility. Ashes remind us that we are dust, we are mortal, and we are not God.  The journey begins with and is sustained by repentance. 

"From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17

Martin Luther said in the first of his 95 Theses, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent," He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."

The journey of Lent also reminds us that the way to life is death. 

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20

"May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."  Galatians 6:14

The movement of the Ash Wednesday service moves from repentance to ashes and, finally, to communion. In this movement the ashes remind us of our own mortality, and communion reminds us to celebrate the grace of God, who through faith in Jesus Christ grants eternal life to sinners.

I haven't done a Lent Words Challenge in a few years as I found this time of year to be too busy for me to keep up with a challenge. But if you are interested in a guide through the Lent season, I have a link to the outline of Lent Words and Scripture passages that we used in 2018. You will also find devotions written by myself and some guest contributors. If you make art during the Lent season please share in the Words Art & Faith Challenge Group on Facebook or on social media with #LentWords2022.

Lent Words and devotions here.

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