It’s Ash Wednesday, which means your social media feed is full of blog posts and photos of about ash. There will be advertisements for “Ashes to Go” and friends proudly letting the world know they are giving up social media for the next 6 weeks.
Giving up something or adding something to your daily routine is one of the ways Ash Wednesday and Lent help us to develop spiritual disciplines. Maybe you plan to pray daily, at a set time, with a set prayer for the next 6 weeks. Or perhaps you are taking swearing and cussing out of your vocabulary. These are great was to draw ourselves closer to the holiness displayed throughout Christ’s life.
Today as we gather for worship and the imposition of ashes upon our foreheads or in the palm of our hands keep the holiness of Christ, and our need to repent for our lack there of, remain front and center
God is our judge.
Anyone of my confirmation students will be able to tell you that. There comes a time in our spiritual formation where we transition from this understanding of judgement due to us for our sins, to now the understanding of the judgement due to them for their sins. This is not what Ash Wednesday is all about. When we confess our sins today we are confessing on our own behalf and also for those who are not present.
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room an shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees you in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6.5-6 (NRSV)
But when you fast, put oil on you head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by our Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6.17-18 (NRSV)
Fleming Rutledge argues that Ash Wednesday, of all the days in the church calendar should remain a private day. This is a day of withdrawal both the church corporately she argues, and I would add the Christians individually.
For the time has come for judgement to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? – 1 Peter 4.17 (NRSV)
This is the day when the church stands first to confess our (individually and corporately) sins, submitting ourselves before the divine to await our judgement.
There are things we have done and left undone as communities for which we must offer repentance. Ash Wednesday offers the church gathered (however small a gathering it is) the opportunity to see how the church can really stand as a witness for the community. However small a gathering, the congregation is taking the sins of the community upon themselves. This is no easy task nor should it be undertaken flippantly.
Side Note: The gathered church is being fractured by the practice of “drive-thru ashes” and “ashes-to-go”. I recognize the usefulness of these practices as a witness to the un-churched. These practices are also helpful to provide more opportunities to our congregations who, let’s be frank, find it hard to schedule more than one hour a week for church. The practice of “drive-thru ashes” and “ashes-to-go” runs dangerously close to the same pious activity Jesus is advising us to avoid in Matthew 6.
Wash Your Ash
As we leave worship today, let us wash our faces.
It is imperative that we wash our faces today. Walking around town with ash on your forehead is a direct contraction to today’s lection, which for many will be the scripture read and preached on today.
Wash your ash today. Let us not allow the world see our fasting as an attempt for pious righteousness but rather let our fasting be a witness to the judgement that was due to us but because of Christ’s sacrificial life we receive the justification we do not deserve.
The church is the representative in the world of God’s forgiven and justified sinners. We want to model what it means to be God’s sinful, forgiven, and justified people. – Fleming Rutledge