When I was a kid, I didn’t know much about Ash Wednesday. I knew it had something to do with Mardi Gras and putting ashes on your forehead and eating fish. I knew it was a Catholic holiday, and I was a Baptist. I didn’t know many Catholics. I have an aunt and uncle who are Catholic. I had one Catholic friend at school, Martha. I don’t remember if she ever had ashes on her head or not. (Maybe she’ll read this and set me straight.) Nobody ever sat down and explained it to me, which was fine because I wasn’t curious- I just thought the whole thing was weird.
Now that I’m older and can read and think, I hate that I missed out on Ash Wednesday for so long. I’ve learned that it’s not a Catholic holiday, it’s a Christian holiday, and while there are some strange elements to it, it’s nothing to be scared of or avoid. That’s why our Baptist church is having an Ash Wednesday service tonight.
We’re going to cover three aspects in our service tonight: the ashes, Lent, and communion.
Over and over in scripture, ashes are used as a sign of mourning. You read about people sprinkling ashes on their head and tearing their clothes. So we’ll put ashes on our head as a sign of grief over our sin. It’s an outward expression of how we feel about the sin in our lives. It’s also a reminder that we are mortal- we are dust and to dust we’ll return. So we should spend our lives avoiding sin and embracing Christ.
We’ll give up something for Lent. Whether its coffee, soda, chocolate, meat, Facebook, television, or something else, we’ll give up something good, something we enjoy, for the sake of growing in our relationship with God. Because there will come a moment when you’ll really, really want a Dr Pepper, but instead you can pray, “God, you know how much I want the DP, but I’m not going to get it because I want you to know that I want you more. I’m willing to sacrifice that thing for you.” And instead of spending time, effort, energy on that thing- whatever it is- you can spend that time, effort, and energy praying, studying scripture, meditating on God’s goodness.
And we’ll take communion. Sin is a real problem for humanity. Sin separates us from God. It leads us away from God. It makes us disobedient to God. Sin has to be punished. Those are problems. So, to solve the problem of sin, Jesus Christ gave himself over to death on our behalf. He was beaten and bloodied and murdered on a cross. The punishment he endured was for our sake. That sacrifice satisfied God’s wrath toward sin for all those who believe it. We’ll eat little crackers that represent the body of Jesus, and drink juice that represents his blood, and we’ll remember that he literally died for our sins.
If you can, find an Ash Wednesday service to attend. Come to ours, if you’d like. If you can’t find one, have a service of your own. Sit down with your family and talk about these things. Talk about sin and sacrifice. Give up something for Lent. Celebrate privately. But don’t shy away from it- embrace it and use it as a catalyst for growth in your relationship with God.