17 Feb The Half-Truth of Ash Wednesday
We are still in February and Ash Wednesday is upon us; it’s hard to believe we are already heading towards Easter. One week from today, millions of Christians around the world will attend a service where these words are spoken over them, “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return” while ashes are marked on their forehead in the sign of a cross. These words are God’s words to Adam after his fall into sin (Gen. 3:19). They are words of curse and consequence to follow him and follow all of his children after him from birth all the way to the grave.
Ashes throughout Scripture carry with them a two-fold meaning. They remind us of our mortality, as we recall the words of God spoken to our first parents. They also served as an outward sign of an inward repentance often times accompanied with wearing sackcloth, so our Lord says, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matt. 11:13).
So, are we but dust and only to dust shall will we return? Are we to sit in a pile of ashes wearing nothing but sackcloth to show our sincere repentance? Yes and no. This the half-truth of Ash Wednesday; it all depends what lens you are looking through. We are but dust, and this is true. God created Adam out of the dust of the ground, but we can’t stop there. God personally breathed into him the very breath of life and created Adam in His image. We are more than just a pile of chemicals; we are God-made, God-breathed living chemicals bearing the image of our creator. We are to repent, no doubt; after all, we are sinners and are called to recognize that fact and to confess it. Yet even repentance, like life being born out of dust, is a gift from God, and that repentance leads us to Christ.
You see, Jesus makes all of the difference, doesn’t he? He is the whole truth of Ash Wednesday. Apart from Jesus, are only hope would be to return to the dust from which we were created. Without Jesus, our repentance would be left hanging for there would be no forgiveness to cover us and no peace with God to return to. Yet because of Christ, the very God who pronounced a curse upon Adam also gave a promise, one day a descendant of Adam and Eve would be born to put to death the Devil and the curse. In Christ, we are sanctified dust, holy dust with the promise of a new resurrected body that will never return to the ground. In Christ, our sins are covered, removed, gone, done away with never to return to condemn us. Those ashes on Wednesday find their answer on a black Friday and a resurrection Sunday.
Jesus makes all of the difference. That is why those ashes put onto your forehead are in the shape of a cross. Lenten season begins with a cross and finds its completion on a cross and finally leads us to an empty tomb. It is good to be reminded of who we are and what our final story would be without Jesus; and it’s even better to be renewed in our faith knowing who we are, what we will be, and where we are headed in Christ. So, are we only dust, and to only dust shall we return? Not in Jesus! Welcome to the season of Lent.
-Pastor Darrin Sheek