Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and I led worship for our congregation in the evening. Lent is a 40-day period of reflection, repentance and penitence in preparation for Easter. Some churches gather for worship on Ash Wednesday and some don't. We gathered for a short service of prayer and reflection.
Most Christians who gather for Ash Wednesday receive the mark of the cross in ashes on their forehead during the worship service, as an outward marker of an inward attitude of repentance. The pastor often says something like "From dust you were created and to dust you shall return" when applying the ashes. The words are derived from Genesis 3:19 and Ecclesiastes 3:20 and are meant to remind one of the transient nature of life on earth. Yesterday, as I was looking at a number of things online related to Ash Wednesday, I read some interesting thoughts about Lent, in general, and Ash Wednesday, in particular. I also saw some pastors make somewhat inevitable links to the song by Kansas, Dust in the Wind.
I suppose it could be as simple as that, to recall our place before God as sinners, living for a brief time on this earth and then passing off into dust. Even the song by Kansas recognizes that. It could be that simple, but for this particular pastor, that would be selling my congregation short.
One of my favorite passages of scripture is Ephesians 1:3-14. Paul writes:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."
Powerful stuff. God's sure and certain promise to everyone who calls on Christ in faith.
Here are the last two verses, broken into their phrases and words.
"In him…you also…when…you heard…the word…of truth…the gospel of your salvation…and believed…in him…were sealed…with…the promised…Holy Spirit…who is…the guarantee…of our inheritance…until…we…acquire…possession…of it…to the praise..of…his glory."
Read the words slowly. Chew them over. Taste their goodness.
From dust…to dust…I suppose, but why, even during a moment of community repentance remain, with that thought?
Why not also look towards the glorious end, an end that will be more beautiful than anything I can imagine?
So these are the words that I spoke as I used ashes to place the sign of the cross on the foreheads of those gathered from our congregation:
"Remember that you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus."
This is the gift of all whom to Christ in faith. Dead to sin, forever, and eternally alive in Christ Jesus, to the praise of his glory. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.