Since the day of the Reformation, the Protestant church has tried to separate itself from the Catholic Church as much as possible. What started as a fervent desire to proclaim faith in Christ as the only means to Salvation without the added burden of tradition, eventually degenerated into a complete neglect of all the customs and liturgy the Church has practiced historically. One of those traditions that have been neglected by the modern Church is Ash Wednesday.
I, for once, always associated Ash Wednesday with dead, meaningless religion and dissed it without even considering what it really meant. Last year after several years of frowning upon its practice, I was confronted with a dilemma. I was invited to officiate the Ash Wednesday service at my home Church. Today one year later, I sit in my office preparing my sermon for this coming Wednesday once again. As I consider the meaning of this beautiful tradition I cannot help, but to be grieved by the idea of all the believers who will silently judge those who proudly display an ash cross in their foreheads. So here I will give my 2 cents on why I think Ash Wednesday is a great holiday to celebrate as a believer.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of our sinfulness and mortality.
In the Old Testament ashes and sackcloth were symbols of grief, humiliation and repentance. The meaning of ashes in the middle eastern culture is one of worthlessness even today. In a culture as self-centered as today’s, it is healthy to remind ourselves that without Christ we are nothing, but worthless sinners that deserve God’s Wrath. We will all die and be forgotten, but our hope is in Christ who not only took our place at the Cross, but also gave us his place of righteousness before the Father
Ash Wednesday reminds us of the hope and forgiveness we have in Christ
Being faced with our mortality and sinfulness leads us to repentance and hope. When confronted with our brokenness and sin, we are faced with two options: to live in despair and hopelessness or to turn to God for healing and forgiveness.
Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent
As we gather for Ash Wednesday we kick off the Lent season (which has also been neglected by the evangelical church), 40 day period in which we are reminded of the sacrifice of Christ. This period has been taken by the Christian Church historically as a period of fasting, prayer and reflection that prepares us for the commemoration of Easter.
I do not desire to impose any tradition in anyone’s life, but I do invite you to prayerfully consider the meaning of this beautiful tradition before you judge those who practice it.
I will be leading our Ash Wednesday service this week, and I invite those of you who might be curious to participate in this service. If you are not in Guatemala City, I invite you to find a Christ centered church that has an Ash Wednesday service, and join other believers as they reflect in the hope we have been given in Christ.