(A little departure from my usual posts, this is the meditation I am sharing tonight at Church of The Way to start Lent. Enjoy!)
Why Ash Wednesday?
Well, because it follows Shrove Tuesday of course! Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday, whichever you prefer. That was the day you cleansed your household of any hindrances which might take your mind off what is to come on Good Friday. Clean house, and remember. An old practice found in different ways to accomplish the same goal in the life of the believer. Here today we are using the ashes of burnt palm branches. A strong symbol connecting the ‘triumphal entry’ of Jesus being proclaimed as King, by people who would only a short time later ask for His death. Ashes here resemble mourning and repentance.
Be clean and refocus on Christ.
Ash Wednesday has deep roots, going back to 6th century Rome, and resembling something out of the Old Testament. Ashes and sackcloth have always been used to represent guilt and repentance, and taken to the next step, mourning. Mourning wrong choices, or a full understanding of sin damaging what was good. The ash works as a covering and a mark, of acknowledging sins committed and the fact that we are now marked by the covering of Christ’s blood. It goes so well with the words spoken by Jesus on more than one occasion when approached for healing, “Go and sin no more.”
The religious leaders did not like that last statement. Almost as much as they did not like that other one, “You are forgiven of your sins”. How did Jesus have the gall to claim power to forgive sins? To state that openly when someone needed healing? It was a pronouncement of who He truly was, and a statement of the actual condition of humanity around Him. Sin has damaged us and made us incomplete. Jesus, being God incarnate, desired so much more for all people. The people recognizing that only He could save them made them ready; just as Psalm 51 talks about, a contrite heart. People who are damaged, who know they are damaged.
The religious leaders resemble what we see in Isaiah 58. A people who got the words right but could not sing the melody. They demanded this of everyone around them and condemned them if they missed the beat. It happens more than a few times in the Gospels; a person is socially condemned for a note out of place, and some are even incarcerated for an improper pause. They were the keepers of the law, every letter and every word, and would even go so far as to condemn Jesus for the time He kept. Their focus was not a contrite heart; it was control and the practice of keeping a law they held in greater esteem than the effects the law was supposed to bring.
A contrite heart.
One that sees brokenness and desires healing.
One that tries to cover the shame of another.
One that releases oppression.
Not the pointing finger of judgement.
Not using our words to crucify the other.
Isaiah was talking to his people. The people that knew God and learned to worship Him. Not strangers, family. Those that knew how to gather, knew the correct practices, knew the religion. But as can often happen with good things, it went wrong. The practices that were to remind them of the God who saved them, and what He desired for this world, were now just religious. It did not move anyone to invite the other in their midst to right relationship. It did not change the way they viewed the poor. It did not change their minds to what God had in mind. Isaiah’s people, were now perfecting the religion, but not doing the right thing.
These are good words to remember about how God’s people went wrong in the past. And they are good words for how God’s people can still go wrong today.
The mark of Christ, the repentant and contrite heart, brings delight in Him, the One who lifts you up. He is the one we remember today, as we consider what we are saved from. The actions of disobedience, the religion that does that not bring light into a dark world. We are marked by him as we commit ourselves to living in His grace. Extending that grace through brokenness revealed, and the source of healing realized.
It is not an easy road to walk humbly with your God. Many of the obstacles come from within:
Our pride. Selfish ambition. A desire to be worshipped. The want of artificial contentment.
But we are called to a life that has eternal consequences, one beyond just looking right. That is the path of doing right, and being right with the One who first sought you out to live and bask in His love.
So who are you today in the understanding of His love? Do you see yourself in this Isaiah passage? Then may the season of Lent be a time for you to realign with the heart of God. To take back the why of your worship, and to live as one called to a greater purpose on this earth. As you meet people at the grocery store,
As you go to work,
As you encounter your neighbours,
To treat each day as one marked by the living and breathing Christ.
That as you live and move, He has personally touched every place with His grace and mercy.
So as marked people, let us remember the words of Christ: Go, and sin no more.