Ash is a sobering symbol. It is literally the remains of something that once was but is no more. Ash is a symbol of death. The ancient custom of Ash Wednesday of placing ashes on the forehead is a solemn reminder of the great reality of human life; from dust we are formed, and to dust we shall return. The ashes are a reminder of death.
Where did death come from? Who invited death into life?
On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, we acknowledge to one another and to God that we are the ones who invited death into life. The Apostle Paul says it quite plainly, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Through sin, death entered the world. We are born into this sinful nature. We have inherited its final effects on our mortal nature. Whenever we choose sin, we choose death.
Death is the reality of our situation, but the cross is the solution. Humanity is responsible for inviting death into life. But Jesus, by his death on the cross, is the one who brings life.
During the next six weeks we will be confronted with our own sinfulness and mortality and at the same time be confronted with the stark reality of the solution to our sin – Jesus’ suffering and death. So we are challenged to think differently, to act differently and to choose differently.
Lent is the time for the church as a body to walk with Jesus; to choose God over self; obedience over sin; life over death.
The choice begins with honesty. Self-examination and repentance is a the brave acknowledgment of the truth of our situation before God; when we take ownership and responsibility for our severed relationship with the God of love who created us.
The disciplines of prayer, fasting, living simply and acts of mercy help us to exercise and train our wills to more naturally choose God over self. It is these disciplines surrounded by the presence of God that defend us against the continued temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.
We cannot give into the temptations of the world when we are giving ourselves away to God and to one another ins acts of love and mercy.
We cannot give into the temptations of the flesh when we are fasting from them.
And we cannot give into the temptations of the devil when our hearts are in communion with God through worship, prayer and Scripture.
Prayer, fasting, living simply and acts of mercy strengthen and repair our relationship with the Living God.
Please do not go to sleep tonight without discerning a very specific Lenten discipline for yourself. I know its tempting to let it slide until tomorrow but when we put off choosing a discipline before we know it it will be Easter and we’ve missed the opportunity of Lent. So think about what discipline will help you draw closer to God during Lent – prayer, fasting, living simply, acts of mercy.
What are the possibilities? Use the SOAP readings as a way to draw close to God through his Word and then do the Word.
Fast. In our Wesleyan tradition we often observed fasting by consuming no food after dinner on Thursday until dinner on Friday. This fast coupled with Scripture reading always proves to be a powerful discipline. Abstaining turns our attention away from self and to God.
Living Simply. Self-denial from a special pleasure or hobby and then using that money for an added gift to a ministry that is important to your heart.
Acts of Service. Invest some time during Lent in hands on ministry that changes lives in a concrete way.
Choose a discipline.
This Lent let us acknowledge our sin before God through self-examination and repentance. And let us grow closer to him through the disciplines of prayer, fasting, simple living and acts of mercy.
Let us observe a holy Lent; for the sake of him who died for us, that we might live for him. Amen.