Ash and Faith: A Reflection on Ash Wednesday
—Joel 2: 12
The images associated with Easter and Christmas are visually more pleasing than those associated with Ash Wednesday. The latter is stuck with images of ashes and sackcloth. Aesthetically speaking, ratings drop at these images. We don't give ashes much thought. Perhaps for this reason, marketers do not position their products around ashes and burlap clothes.
But at this time of year every year the image of ashes appears in the Christian calendar.
Ash and Faith
To the faithful, ash is a symbol of mourning, repentance and purification. Wearing ash is a symbol of repentance, an inward transformation from sin to holiness. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the long journey of Lent ahead, a journey of renewal, restoration by turning toward God.
As an outward symbol of this inward turning to God, many churches observe an ancient Christian ritual of imposition of ashes. During the service, the minister puts the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the believers.
One can hear the minister say, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return," from Genesis 3:19. This verse is not meant to make one feel worthless. I do not think this verse is intended for shock value either.
In one of the episodes of The Simpsons, Homer decides not to go to church one Sunday. He has a great time skipping church, and he decides not to go to the church anymore. One Sunday he falls asleep while smoking a cigar and sets his family's house on fire. His neighbor Ned Flanders runs to Homer's rescue, and Homer turns up at the church the next Sunday. He may have even had some ashes on him.
The reminder that we are dust is not to frighten us into spiritual observances but to be mindful of the fragility of life and to voluntarily set about doing the work we are supposed to do. It is call to repent together.
The word of God urges us to run what I would call the ash test on ourselves today:
- View our lives from the very end and not from the front end.
- Do the needed retrofitting with the help of the Holy Spirit.
- Do the work we are supposed to do, all because life is fragile, transitory and too beautiful to be squandered away.
Repentance and faith are the entryways into a new way of living under a new framework. Such a redeemed framework of our lives fits us as children of God into God's kingdom. Repentance sets us on the journey to live into the image of God and claim our identity as children of God. John Wesley says, "In children of God, repentance and faith exactly answer each other. … Repentance says, 'Without God I can do nothing.' Faith says, 'I can do all things through Christ strengthening me'" (The Repentance of Believers, Sermon 14).
Living into repentance and faith is a lifelong journey. It is, in fact, a costly commitment evidenced by everyday living into faith, hope, and love in action.
Spirit of the Living God, melt us, mold us, fill us, and use us. Amen.