“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

Psalm 103:13-14 (ESV)

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You don’t need to observe Ash Wednesday. This isn’t a command. There is no rule for it. In fact, as far as Church traditions go, it is a fairly late development– and by late I mean around the 8th century.

But ashes have long been a symbolic part of YHWH worship.

  • There were a sign of sorrow and mourning (2 Sam. 13:19, Is. 61:3, Jer. 6:26, Ez. 27:30).
  • They were also an act of repentance and turning toward God’s face. Daniel says that he “turned [his] face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (Dan. 9:3). Jesus uses ashes symbolically to speak of repentance (Matthew 11:21).

As with all spiritual practices, the practices themselves are not the point; the practices point to Jesus.

So, how does– or, rather, how can– Ash Wednesday, point us to Jesus?

Let it be an act of humility. Make yourself low before the Lord Almighty, the One who formed us from the dust.

Let it be a confession of mortality. The psalmist urges us to “number our days”, to remember that we have limits, that we are finite, that we shall one day return to the dust (Ps. 90:3, 12). Kneel before the “Lord our God our Maker” (Ps. 95:6).

Let it be a time to repent. We do not confess our sins to make God gracious; we confess because we have found that God is gracious. We turn away from self-reliance and self-destruction, and we turn toward the God whose nail-pierced hands are ever and always open to us. Repentance is not about shaming us; it’s about making us whole.

Let it be a time to receive God’s grace. When we humble ourselves, we find we are met by God’s grace (James 4:6).

So, no, you don’t have to observe Ash Wednesday. You don’t have to have a service or even go to one. But it is a beautiful way to join with the Church– for the past 1200 years– and with the people of God– for thousands of years before that!– and humbly repent and seek God’s face.

It is the beginnig of a fast season, Lent. Lent– like every other season of the Church Calendar– is about marking time around the life of Christ. We tend to mark time around our own events; there’s nothing evil about that. But there is another way to keep time. Christians for centuries have marked time in way that reminded them of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, in short, this is about being centered on Christ and being connected to the Body of Christ, historic and universal.

This an invitation. Spiritual habits like marking time by the Church Calendar can be a habitation for the Spirit, a way to make room for His work in us and in our churches. It is, as Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ words, a way to “keep company” with Jesus (Matt. 11:28-30).

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If you live in Colorado Springs, and would like to join us for New Life Downtown’s Ash Wednesday service, here are the details (The Pinery at the Hill is at 775 West Bijou Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80905):

AshWednesday-2014_1366x768

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3 thoughts on “Why An Ash Wednesday Service?

  1. Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.
    If you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off.
    Go after them.
    Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.
    Let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time.
    Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over.
    Get serious, really serious.
    Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.
    Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others?
    Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do:
    Live well,
    live wisely,
    live humbly.
    It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.
    Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others.
    It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced.
    You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.
    The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest.
    He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.”
    He then put a child in the middle of the room.

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