Today is Ash Wednesday. As followers of Jesus, we enter into the season of Lent, and prepare ourselves for Jesus’ rising from the dead to new life at Easter. Lent lasts for forty days, or six weeks, because Jesus was tempted by the devil in the desert for forty days. You can read about it in Chapter 4 of Matthew’s Gospel. So why do we receive ashes on our foreheads?
It is a custom dating back to Old Testament times, before Jesus. The King of Nineveh believed the prophecy of Jonah and fasted forty days wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes to save the city, and ordered the people to do so too. (Jonah 3:4-10) Jeremiah called Israel to “wallow in ashes” of repentance (Jeremiah 6:26) Abraham says that he is unworthy to speak with God because he is “but dust and ashes” (Genesis 2:7) In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reproached the people who did not turn from their sins in towns where he had performed miracles. “Alas for you! If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”
In our time, people wear t-shirts with signs and messages. In Old Testament times, and in the early days of Christianity, wearing ashes on your forehead was a sign to others. The message of the ashes was “I am aware of my weakness and what I have done wrong”, “I am sorry for my sins” and “I want to make peace with my neighbors, with God”. The ashes imposed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are a reminder of our unworthiness and sinfulness that leads to death. Ashes remind us of our need to be cleansed of sin and made worthy of Salvation. So how does this relate to our lives in the 21st Century?
The ashes on our foreheads remind us of our faults, of the times when pride keeps us from getting the help that we need. What if we used this Lent to recognize our weaknesses, asking God to help us grow stronger as we work on them? What if we fasted from judging others and from our selfishness?
The ashes on our foreheads remind us that our lives are a gift from God. Who calls us to use each day to make a difference while we are here on earth. What if we found a way, each day of Lent, to care for someone who most needs our help, our kindness? What if we chose to build greater peace and justice in our world through our actions? What if we gave alms (money) to the poor?
Finally, the ashes on our foreheads are a sign that we know we are sinners who need God’s mercy. When the early Christians saw a person wearing ashes, they responded by praying for the person who was seeking to reconcile with the Church and with God’s people. What if we prayer for each other today, as we wear the ashes, and all through the season of Lent?
We cannot appreciate God’s infinite mercy if we do not realize that we need mercy. We understand salvation when we recognize our need to be saved or rescued from our sin, which separates us from God. Ashes remind us of this need. When we wear the ashes on our heads, we also acknowledge the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who gave his life for our salvation.
Lord Jesus Christ, just as you were led into the desert to fast and pray for forty days, we are led by your Spirit into this holy season of Lent.
Strengthen us, Lord, during our Lenten journey to Easter. Give us the grace to resist temptation to grow in holiness and to make a difference in our world through our prayer, fasting and good deeds. Amen.
Narrator: A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew All: Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ Narrator: Jesus said to the disciples: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. The Gospel of the Lord. All: Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ
Teacher: Dear friends in Christ, let us ask our Father to bless these ashes which we will use as a mark of our repentance, our turning away from sin. Lord, bless the sinner who asks your forgiveness and bless those who receive these ashes. May they keep this Lenten season in preparation for the joy of Easter. All: Amen.
Those distributing the ashes dip their thumb in the ashes, then trace the sign of the cross on the forehead of those receiving the ashes saying: TURN AWAY FROM SIN, AND BE FAITHFUL TO THE GOSPEL. (Mark 1:15) (Instrumental music playing…) http://www.youtube.com/wat ch?v=MtqeomC_0ko
Together let us join in the prayer that Jesus taught us: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
God, our Father, bless our school community. Give us your wisdom and walk with us on our Lenten journey. Open our hearts to your Word. Bless the marks on our foreheads; may they be a sign of fasting from sin and feasting on good works of love. We ask this through Jesus, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever, Amen.