Although not every Christian tradition observes Ash Wednesday, it is important to be aware that many around the world today are participating in it as the season of Lent begins. Ash Wednesday is not mentioned in Scripture or given as an ordinance, but it does serve as a reminder of who Christ is, and the lengths to which he went to forgive our sin.
In the late Middle Ages, Anglo-Saxon (English) abbot Aelfric the Grammarian wrote, “We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins”.
First of all, my English teacher brain loves anyone who is known for centuries as “The Grammarian”. Secondly, I think he makes a good point.
II Corinthians 8:9 reads, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.”
As we reflect on our sin, we also reflect on the Savior who became “sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21). We recall a Savior who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phillippians 2:7-8).
Whether or not we physically observe the practice of Ash Wednesday, we must recall that God looks not at our outward expression, but our inner motives, and He calls us to “rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil” (Joel 2:13).
Jesus hammers this home by saying “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
Jesus just took away our ability to be repentant but one season of the year.
In essence, Jesus just made everyday Ash Wednesday.
Life in Christ was promised to be fulfilling, but it was never promised to be easy.
The point is that we should take a moment not just today, but daily, to figuratively “sit in ashes” as we consider our sins, take up our cross, and then rejoice in following the One who has conquered sin and death so that we might have life more abundantly.