by Pastor Stacey Littlefield
On February 26, we will observe Ash Wednesday at ECC with a family friendly, interactive time of prayer and worship to enter into the season of Lent in community. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent, the 40 days that lead up to Holy Week and our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter morning. It is called “Ash Wednesday” because of the ashes that are customarily placed on the forehead of worshipers during the service.
Why ashes? In biblical times and down through history ashes have been a sign of mortality and repentance. In Job 42:4-5, for example, after Job is confronted by God, he says, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job sees God and sees his own sin and responds in repentance by sitting among the ashes. While we do not physically “sit among the ashes” on Ash Wednesday or during the Lenten season, we are invited to reflect and pray.
It might be tempting to see Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent as morbid affairs, even something those of us who know Christ need not bother with, but there is something here we dare not miss. Yes, we have been forgiven. Yes, the grace of God is sufficient for us and all of our sins, past, present, and future. No, we need not wallow in shame because we fall short. But repentance is an important part of our walk with Christ, and we also dare not forget the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf. We dare not forget, either, that Christ came not only to secure a place for us in heaven, but to teach us a new and better way to live—abundant life now. Lent reminds us of our calling to walk the road that leads to Christoformity, even as we acknowledge Christ’s death on the cross and celebrate the gift of our redemption.
On Ash Wednesday, at the culmination of our time of prayer and worship, worshipers are invited to come forward and have ashes place on their foreheads in the shape of the cross. The receiving of ashes is not mandatory. It is available for those who wish to take part. The ashes remind us of our mortality and of the call to repentance. As we place ashes on each forehead, we say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ultimately, Ash Wednesday is about looking back in gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ and looking forward in hope because God is with us, still—leading us, guiding us, sustaining us, and fulfilling his promises to us. As a prayer I pray almost every day puts it, we bless you, God, “for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ash Wednesday is a time to give thanks for our redemption in Christ, to acknowledge the road to transformation we are yet traveling, and to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. I hope you will join us on February 26 for Ash Wednesday.