By Verse : Ash Wednesday 2 Cor 5:14,15 Topic :


This is a very unique day. It’s Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and of course it is also Valentine’s Day. One is remembered with cards, flowers, gifts, and special remembrance of how much you love someone, or are loved. It’s a day when special Valentine cards and perhaps gifts, are searched for that say just the right words to let someone know how much you care.
Ash Wednesday, on the other hand, is remembered with the sign of the cross on your forehead that comes from ashes. It is, after all, the first day of Lent. This morning while Carole and I were out at Hardees for our Wednesday date breakfast of biscuits and gravy, as we entered, there was a couple that had huge black cross’ on their foreheads. Yes, they must have been to the Catholic church and received their ashes.
Lent, as sometimes defined as a time that offers us an opportunity to come to terms with our human condition and it brings our need for a Savior to the forefront. Like Advent, Lent is a time to open the doors of our hearts a little wider in order to understand our Lord a little deeper, so that when Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter comes, it is not just another day at church but an opportunity to receive the overflowing of graces God has to offer to a sinner in need of a Savior. Everything in the journey to the cross comes to and end, or maybe I’d be better to say, it comes to a crescendo when they lay Jesus in the tomb and three days later, on Easter morning we sing with gusto that Jesus is alive.
But unlike the joy associated with the season of Advent, with its anticipation of the precious baby Jesus, Lent reminds us of our sinfulness as we examine our rebellious nature. Lent, becomes the opportunity to contemplate what our Lord did for us on the Cross – and it wasn’t pretty. But the purpose of Lent does not stop at sadness and despair. No, it points us to the hope through the Resurrection.
Thinking about Ash Wednesday, I don’t think it is wildly celebrated any more, but its significance remains. Many churches, or denominations, may not even have an Ash Wednesday service. Some, like the Catholics, will open their doors early in the morning for those who might want to come and receive their ashes, but it may or may not be part of Mass. Lots of protestants don’t celebrate it. But many Methodists offer the ashes of Ash Wednesday as a kick-off to the season of Lent. We are one of those churches. It reminds us that Lent has begun. It reminds us that for the next 40 plus days we will reflect on Christ’s journey to the cross, and what it cost him that we might be free, that we might have the hope of eternal life.
In some ways Ash Wednesday is like New
Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Eve many will examine the past year and decide what changes need to be made for the coming year. Some will make those resolutions to give up this and that, or try to get a little bit healthy, or just you know, leave the old behind and look forward to what the new year will bring.
Well, we might say Ash Wednesday is kind of like that. At Ash Wednesday we too examine our lives, but in a different way. We do it spiritually. Our founder, John Wesley would ask, “How is it with your soul?” Maybe even ask the question, “are you growing in the grace of God?” His class meetings were something like that as men and women would gather each week to discuss their spiritual journey. We might just boil it all down with one question, how is our faith walk with Christ?
We might say today, this first day of Lent, is that day to re-examine that commitment we made when ever we did it. Is our journey of faith being bogged down by something? Is anything standing in the way of our serving Christ? Have we drifted away? Have we taken a wrong turn? Or maybe this question, is sin taking a hold on our lives again?
Some will decide to fast, and or give up something that they like for these 40 plus days, just like when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by you know who for those 40 days, yet did not falter.
And then there are some who will not give up something, but will do something, maybe acts of mercy, maybe visit people, or be involved somehow doing something more, sacrificing their time some place. You know, be like Mother Theresa in in some ways.
Lent becomes a reminder of the suffering that happened in order for us to remember God’s grace that is available to all sinners. When you leave this place after receiving ashes, you’ll be reminded where you came from and where you will return. We are reminded God sent his Son to this earth to live among us in order that we might know his Father’s love.
But his birth, as exciting as that was, isn’t the most important thing for us to remember. What we are asked to remember is his ministry and his mission. We are asked to embrace it all, from the beginning until the end so that we can experience that change that is needed and offered to us. We remember the beauty of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, and we remember the beauty of the resurrection when the women found his tomb was empty. Two wonderful joys that remind us of the grace and love of God. But a whole lots happened between his birth and his resurrection.
His ministry stories help us understand God’s love. We listen to words Jesus used to let the world know about his Father’s love. We picture when Jesus encounters people like the woman at the well, or the fellow possessed by demons, or the fellow who was blind, or the cripple dropped down through the roof of a house. They tell us the story of God’s great love, and his forgiveness to all who turn to him through his son. They tell us how God’s healing power flowed through his son as one after the other became well. Lives healed, transformed, given hope for a better tomorrow. Those words of love reminding us that the God of yesterday, is the God of today, and the God of tomorrow. Those stories come alive so that we can know the God who cared for those folks is the same God that gave us his Son so that those who believe can be transformed, even we here tonight.
So, on this night, you have come, I have come, to remember Jesus’ journey of faith to the cross, as well as to think about our own journey. This journey of Lent will prepare us for that final week in Jesus’ love when the shouts of joy and exhilaration of Palm Sunday turned to shouts to crucify him on the Friday we call Good Friday. Christ’s journey to the cross is full of nails, a crown, a purple robe, a cross, that ends with a shroud and a grave. On Good Friday, when we leave this place following our service, I pray we will have experienced what it cost Jesus, what it cost God, that we, and the world might have a new beginning. It wasn’t pretty. But it was redeeming.
And why did he do it? Why did Jesus say yes to his Father and come to this earth knowing that his journey back home would take a road of rejection and struggles as he one day would have to bare the cross? In order to achieve the goal his Father sent him to do…. Not for his freedom, after all, he was without sin. But for the freedom from the power of sin in our lives…. And the gift of eternal life.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians says this. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that who one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
It is a reminder that the grave is not the end for those who believe. It is a transition from this life to life eternal. Paul has reminded us that when a loved one dies, we don’t grieve like those who have no hope. Our hope is not in the now, but in the everlasting. Our hope comes from the cross of suffering which really is the cross of victory, for upon that cross Jesus took away the sins of the whole world. You want to get a good grasp of it? Read the words to some of the old hymns about the cross, about the cleansing blood of Jesus.
As you begin your own journey to the cross on which Christ took our sins, be reminded of your own mortality. Think of it, out of dust Adam came, and as our committal says, we shall return to dust. Yet, we know that is not the end of the story.
The season of Lent begins here, at Ash Wednesday, thinking about suffering and death, but it ends on Easter Sunday with the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of eternal life. We celebrate and learn about God’s love and his power on earth through his son sent to save the world. Linda remarked to me that her music that the choir will be singing isn’t as upbeat or uplifting as the Christmas music was. And it shouldn’t be because it is a different time, it is a different preparation, a difference remembrance. Both serve the purpose as reminders of God’s love. One, he sent his son. Two, his son went to the cross for our salvation. Those two moments in time explain how much love God has for us.
So, yes, Lent, in some ways is a downer because we talk about sin, death, the cross, suffering and all that. No one likes to think of those things. We want the joy. Let us remember, to get to eternal life there is no other way than to go through the cross.
And it doesn’t end when they put him on the cross. It didn’t end when they put him in the tomb. No! Goodness no! there was a new beginning ready to happen. New life sprang forth on Easter morning and the church celebrates that resurrection Sunday after Sunday. For not only could the nails not hold Jesus, neither could the tomb, for one day, he arose with a mighty triumph over his foes.
And that is why on this Ash Wednesday as we receive those ashes of repentance we come to acknowledge our sinful nature, but we also come to acknowledge our victory through believing in Christ. For it is true, and it will never be rescinded, that Christ loved the world that he gave us his son so that whoever would believe in him, yes whoever believes in him will find forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.
These dark days of Lent will be a reminder how much he endured for you and me. But through it all, through it all, we can learn to trust in our Jesus, a gift that is worth receiving, and a gift that is worth sharing.

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