In this Year of Grace 2010, today is the seventh Wednesday before Easter, known in the annual rhythm of the Christian calendar as Ash Wednesday. The day initiates the season of Lent, a 40-day period of repentance and prayer that progresses to a climax in the great resurrection celebration of Easter Sunday. Although Scripture says nothing about Lent, it says much about the disciplines of humility, repentance, fasting, prayer and self-control that define its purpose and meaning.
These acts can be done with improper motives, to be sure, but that is no reason for not doing them from a pure heart instead. Our Lord addressed that very issue in Matthew 6:1-6, 16ff, which is the Gospel reading this Ash Wednesday in liturgical churches both Catholic and Protestant.
The name “Ash Wednesday” refers to the outward sign of this inward work. Fittingly, that is the sign of the cross, drawn by the “imposition” of ashes to the forehead as a two-fold reminder of our sinfulness and our mortality. As the officiant’s thumb marks the forehead, he or she pronounces the words: “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” It is deed and declaration–each underscoring and reinforcing the other. Righteousness and life eternal both are God’s gifts to us through faith in Jesus Christ.
Will you join me in this “collect” (prayer) for Ash Wednesday, taken from the service book of one of the liturgical churches: “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wickedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”