Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent, a period of 40 days when Christians will prepare their hearts and minds for Easter. It can be a time to focus daily on prayer, fasting, and Scripture, all pointing to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I must confess that, as Protestant, more specifically a Baptist, I have not been in the habit of observing Ash Wednesday or the Lenten season. It’s a day more closely associated with the Catholic Faith, and, for a long time, the only experience I had with Catholics was that they had large families and we were served fish sticks every Friday at school.
But, last year, I attended my first Ash Wednesday service, and I can say that I walked away from that service with a profound sense of my mortality, yet rejoicing in the fact that my hope is in Christ alone through faith alone by grace alone. I do not need to fear death, because, as a Christian, my hope is in a risen Savior who has promised a place prepared for me.
Mark D. Roberts writes in Ash Wednesday: What is Ash Wednesday? How Do We Observe it? Why Should We? gives the fundamental purpose of this day, stating,
The theological core of Ash Wednesday is…shaped by a biblical theology of creation, sin, mortality, death, grace, and salvation.
He then goes on to explain,
What I value most about Ash Wednesday worship services is the chance for us all to openly acknowledge our frailty and sinfulness. In a world that often expects us to be perfect, Ash Wednesday gives us an opportunity to freely confess our imperfections. We can let down our pretenses and be truly honest with each other about who we are. We all bear the mark of sin, from the youngest babies to the oldest seniors. We all stand guilty before a holy God. We all are mortal and will someday experience bodily death. Thus we all need a Savior.
Roberts’ article goes on to enlighten us regarding the ways Ash Wednesday can enrich and deepen our relationship with God.
…what allows us to stare death in the face is the assurance of life, real life, eternal life. When we know our lives are safe in the hands of God, and that this physical life is just the beginning of eternity, then we’re free to be honest about what lies ahead for us. We can face death without fear or pretending, because we know the One who defeated death. (italics mine)
Some may object to the observance of Ash Wednesday for a variety of reasons, either because of its association with Catholicism or, most notably, the fact that scripture does not call for such a day. I encourage you, however, to work through that. Why? First, the early Church observed a similar focus, and, secondly, if we are to exclude Church observances, then we’ll have to cancel Christmas and Easter (because neither day is mandated by scripture).
Our relationship with God matters. So, too, does our sanctification. A day such as Ash Wednesday can help with both. So, let the ashes be placed on your forehand and hear the words, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19).
Yes, I am going to die. But, what is more profound and greater still is that I can rejoice that a Savior has defeated death!