Today we begin the Lenten journey to Jesus’ death on the cross and to His resurrection from the dead.
Our Lenten journey takes us to the Places of the Passion:
Feb. 21 The Upper room
Feb. 28 Gethsemane
Mar. 7 Court of the High Priest
Mar. 14 Court of Pontius Pilate
Mar. 21 Way of Sorrows
Tonight for Ash Wednesday we are introduced to our Guide: The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).
While the observance of Ash Wednesday is not required, it has a long history in the Christian Church. But further back in history we can see two links in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament):
I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and petitions, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. (Daniel 9:3)
But even earlier, after Adam and Eve sinned, God spoke judgment upon them for their sin:
[God said to Adam:] “By the sweat of your face will you eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)
Those words are often spoken by the pastor as he applies the ashes to the forehead.
So there is Biblical support for Ash Wednesday practice, but there is no requirement that is must be done. The marking of the forehead is not a “sign of spirituality” for the person receiving the ashes for others to see. Rather, it reflects the person’s acknowledgment of sin and its affect on the person. Ashes in the form of a cross also remind the person that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the Law for living and satisfies the demand of death for sinning. The cross of ashes then reminds us of the great debt of sin and the greater payment of that debt by Jesus.