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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why I wear ashes on my forehead

Today is Ash Wednesday.  This year it means a lot more to me than usual.  It is a day that begins the season of Lent leading up to Holy week and Easter Sunday.  A day that signifies inner repentance and also your witness to others that we all need a Savior to pay the price for our sins.  What a somber day.  And "somber" would be the word for me this week.  2 days ago we left a weekend retreat titled "Defiant Beauty" with Andrea Conner that was heavy and powerful, altering any disillusionment of the gospel and what we are exactly called for here on earth.  It was a good, good weekend, but my heart and mood has been somber ever since.  I believe that God has called us to holiness and what that exactly looks like is very sobering.  There is a true realization that we are not home yet.   What I like to call the "cinderella gospel" came crashing down.  You know, the I've been saved/rescued and now it's happily ever after.  

I find it so fitting that we end a retreat which dashed our Christian disillusions and here we arrive immediately upon Ash Wednesday.  A somber day symbolic of inner repentance, with a marking of Christ and a witness to all of this torturous device placed on our foreheads in ash that not only was used to save us but that we are to "pick up our cross and follow Him." 

"For dust you are to dust you shall return."  Genesis 3:19 Is what the pastor or priest says as they make the sign of the cross in ash on your forehead.  These words were spoken by God (Yahweh Elihu) to our 1st parents, Adam and Eve, after they had eaten the forbidden fruit and fallen into sin, more specifically death.  The ashes on ash wednesday reminds us of this... our sinfulness and our mortality, our need for a Savior, repentance and a right place before God.  
Nowhere in the Bible is Ash Wednesday mentioned or required.  We never practiced it in our protestant home growing up.  It was viewed as very Catholic.  But I would challenge you today to let those borders drop, as I have and see the beauty in the ashes.
The mention of the pouring of ashes on oneself occurs many times in the scriptures, as an outer manifestation of inward repentance or mourning.  I believe this is an ancient practice, often involving sackcloth.  
The earliest occurrence is found at the end of the book of Job.  "Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" Job 42:6    And Jesus mentions repentance with ashes and sackcloth in Matthew.  "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!  If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." Matthew 11:21
Sackcloth is a very rough material, worn it would cause great discomfort with any movement.  Another physical thing to bring to remembrance our need to repent. I believe we need physical things like this.. especially in this day and age when we live in such comfort and shrink away from any discomfort or suffering.  I know I do. 

At the retreat we were challenged to look at the cross.  Not just the cross, but a crucifix.  God the Son on the cross. Suffering laid out and visible right there.  Again, not something we had in our protestant home.  We had beautiful crosses but empty without Christ.  And I get that, too.  Our Christ did rise again and He is not on the cross any longer and for that I am grateful.  But we lose sight of a God who suffers for us when we remove that completely.  We lose sight that we are called to suffer along with him.  He didn't call us to pick up your Bible and follow me.  He challenges us to pick up your cross.. one of the cruelest forms of a torture device.  Pick that up and follow Him.  (Matthew 16:24)

Like I said, a heavy week.  But a freedom in that disillusionment being gone.  No longer are the questions there of WHY GOD?  when a broken world is more and more evident all around us.  Children and an estimated 27 million taken as slaves right now.  Wars and rumors of wars.  The Ukraine right now and the missing tortured protestors fighting for the freedoms.  It's a hard world to look at with a loving God. But when you look at that cross and the suffering and that this world is operating under the evil one's reign.. it changes that cinderella mentality.  We are here to do His work, be His hands and feet and be His love.. all pointing to the cross.  

May God bless your Ash Wednesday and His work in your heart as you seek to pick up your cross and follow Him. 

If your church doesn't participate in ash Wednesday, it's easy to find one that does.  Just google in your area and most likely they will list 2 or 3 times a day when ashes are being administered.  

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