Ash Wednesday

17 February 2021

Today is a special celebration when Christians around the world embark into a very powerful season and our eyes look in a different direction, particularly a time of self-examination. 

There are many times and reasons why we praise God:

  • Most of the time, we praise Him because of material blessings we receive, which we know are undeserved 
  • We praise Him even more for His love, mercy and compassion – yet at times it’s taken for granted 
  • We praise and honour God for the cross of Christ

It’s easy for me in my humanity to be absorbed in everyday life and experience.  The truth is that I can easily focus on externals: brand-name clothing, the size of the house, car, bank account… anything that points to human success, self-aggrandisement, fame and power.  I quickly forget my Maker and Redeemer, replacing Jesus with things and human ambitions. 

A season of repentance

Lent is a season to get me back on the right track: it calls me back to the basics and what matters most in our walk as Christians.  I’m to put to death the sin and indifference in my heart toward God and my fellow humans.  Lent beckons me to enter again into the joy of the Lord, but it takes a contrite heart, asking God to renew my heart.  It brings me back to what faith and walking with Christ is about: the constant dying to sin, striving to live a new life in Christ, and the failures I encounter.  We all fall, and I’m thankful that God strengthens us to get up again: it’s not how many times we fall, but how many times and how fast we get up, and it’s only through God’s strength and mercy that that’s possible.

God created man from the dust of the ground, then breathed into him the breath of life; and only then did Adam become a living being.  Today, during the imposition of ashes on our forehead, I’m reminded that I come from dust and to dust I shall return.  There’s no easy way around it: that’s the truth.  I’m put to the remembrance of my humanity, sinfulness and alienation from God.  It brings me to remember my human struggle with broken relationships, my participation with the rest of mankind in insisting on my own way and pretending to know the way.  The irony is that the closest people in our lives are those we hurt and who hurt us, because of human frailty.  This is brought to our attention in this Lenten season, that we turn to God for help to mend those relationships.  Every Ash Wednesday I must be honest and face up to the fact that I fall into phoniness in my Christian walk, the desire to be seen by others…  The Liturgy today calls us to make a decision, to respond to the call and embark into a way of repentance.  Any reminder of our weakness and humanity is for nothing else than to point to God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. 

Read Psalm 51:10-12, 17.  The children of Israel thought it was through animal sacrifices that they appeased God and brought delight to Him, but this leads us to a deeper understanding: the sacrifice He’s asking for is a penitent heart.  This takes honesty and humility, sometimes to the point that we don’t feel we deserve to come into God’s presence, because He’s a holy God. 

The holiness of God

Isaiah saw a vision of God; and because He saw God’s holiness, then came a personal realisation that he was a sinner in the midst of a people of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:1-7).  Patrick Reardon said, “The true sense of our sinfulness does not come from measuring the distance between our own conduct and the grandeur of the moral law.”[1]  Often righteousness and holiness are attributed humanly to fulfilling the laws, but that’s not what the Bible says.  “Oh no, it is in the overwhelming presence of the Holy One Himself that we sinners know how utterly sinful we are.” 

Job argued chapter after chapter that he was a just man and what he was going through was undeserved; then he found himself standing naked (figuratively speaking) in the presence of the Holy One and suddenly changed his mind and realised he wasn’t really the innocent man he claimed to be.  Never again could he point to some alleged purity of his conscience; the pretence was over.  Job must simply repent (Job 42:5-6).  “The overwhelming holiness of God is the source of profound repentance.  It is related to the coming of the Holy Spirit, for it is our pride and sinfulness that grieve and impede the operation of God’s sanctifying Spirit.”[2] 

Scripture tells us we’re a friend of Jesus, and we may think we can barge into God’s presence, but it must be balanced with respect for God: that truly, without His help, holiness cannot be obtained.  Holiness is God’s attribute and a gift from God.  It’s not something we can achieve because we follow laws and achieve a degree of good, moral behaviour.  On this day sometimes I feel very unworthy to stand before God’s presence and celebrate the Eucharist, because I am reminded of who I truly am.  But there’s no reason to be hopeless, because God delights in those who humble themselves.  We’re all called to look into our own heart and let His Spirit examine us through and through.  And what needs to be done, let us do it; because it’s for the betterment, it’s a blessing from God.

God invites us to receive His mercy

As we embark into this season of holy Lent, as we bow down we become taller, for it takes a lot of humility, getting rid of our pride.  Today, though we might feel unworthy, the holy God invites us to come into His presence, that He might shower us with His forgiveness as we cast ourselves into His mercy.

Dear people of God…

[1] Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, Psalm 51

[2] See note 1

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