“…By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which is the season of preparation prior to the celebration of Good Friday and Easter. If you come from a Roman Catholic background, you are probably very familiar with the traditions of Lent. For the rest of us, here is a little explanation:
The name Ash Wednesday comes from the practice of placing ashes on the forehead of Christians to signify sorrow for and repentance from sin. (Recall the term “in sackcloth and ashes.”) That is why today you might see a few people going about their day with a smudge on their forehead. When the ashes are placed on the forehead, the priest will say something like “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” echoing the words that God spoke to Adam as he placed the curse on him after his first sin. The priest may also say something like “repent, and believe in the gospel,” echoing Jesus’ words at the beginning of his ministry.
Traditionally, during Lent, people give up some sort of food that they enjoy. Roman Catholics are also not supposed to eat meat on Ash Wednesday or on Fridays during Lent.
You might be wondering, what does all this have to do with us? Are we supposed to get ashes on our foreheads and give up certain types of food for Lent? Well, no. I greatly fear that most people who get ashes on their foreheads and give up certain foods for Lent are doing so in an empty and thoughtless way, mistaking the form for the substance. In other words, what is important about Lent is repentance, not a dirty forehead; not denying yourself an enjoyable food, but instead denying yourself and following Christ.
Dear brothers and sisters, what matters is not what minor sacrifice you make during Lent, but the great sacrifice that our Lord Jesus Christ has made on behalf of all his children. That is what we want to focus on during this season: The Suffering Savior. So, we will look first at Christ’s humiliation; then at signs in John’s gospel pointing to him as Messiah; next at the events of the Passion Week; then, specifically at Jesus’ words on the cross; and, finally, the message of the cross.
T.S. Eliot wrote a poem entitled “Ash Wednesday,” in which he twice included the line, “Teach us to sit still.” May we sit still during this Lenten season, remembering, marveling, and praising our Savior for his great sacrifice of love on our behalf.