Ash Wednesday
The Rev. George Pejakovich

IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, ASHES WERE ALWAYS ASSOCIATED WITH HUMILITY, MORTALITY, FASTING, AND REMORSE. IF ONE SINNED AGAINST GOD, AND FELT REMORSE ABOUT THAT SIN, ONE WOULD OFTEN SPRINKLE ASHES ON ONE’S HEAD AS A SIGN OF SORROW AND REPENTANCE. THE ASHES WERE TO REMIND US THAT WE ARE MORTAL, AND THAT WE WILL BECOME ASHES AFTER OUR DEATH. THEY WERE TO REMIND US ALSO THAT WE NEED TO REPENT OF OUR SINS NOW WHILE GOD GIVES US THIS TIME OF GRACE. DURING THE 6TH OR 7TH CENTURY IN EUROPE, WHEN THE FORTY DAYS BEFORE EASTER BECAME A TIME OF PREPARATION FOR BAPTISM, CHRISTIAN CHURCHES TOOK THIS PRIVATE SIGN OF REPENTANCE AND BEGAN TO MARK THE SIGN OF THE CROSS ON THE FOREHEADS OF BELIEVERS. IT THUS BECAME NOT MERELY A SIGN OF REPENTANCE, THOUGH IT REMAINED SO, BUT ALSO A REMINDER OF BAPTISM IN WHICH BY WATER AND THE WORD WE ARE MARKED WITH THE SIGN OF THE CROSS FOREVER. THE ASHES WERE, AND STILL ARE, TAKEN FROM THE BURNED PALM LEAVES OF THE PRIOR YEAR’S PALM SUNDAY.

WHENEVER I HEAR THE WORDS OF THE IMPOSITION OF ASHES, “REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN,” I RECALL THE WORDS OF THE BURIAL SERVICE; “ASHES TO ASHES, DUST TO DUST.” THESE WORDS ARE FIRST SPOKEN IN SCRIPTURE BY GOD IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN WHEN ADAM AND EVE DISOBEYED GOD; GOD TOLD THEM THAT, “DUST YOU ARE, AND TO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN.” SO WE BEGIN OUR LENTEN JOURNEY WITH THE SOMBER REMINDER OF OUR MORTALITY, AND OF OUR TENDENCY TO SEPARATE OURSELVES FROM GOD. WE ARE ALL MARKED WITH THE ASHES OF DEATH, BECAUSE WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER; BUT WE ARE MARKED WITH THE ASHES OF DEATH IN THE SIGN OF THE CROSS, BECAUSE THE ONLY WAY BEYOND THE ASHES OF DEATH IS THROUGH THE CROSS OF CHRIST.

THE JOURNEY OF LENT IS THE WALK OF THE WAY OF THE CROSS; AND THE WAY OF THE CROSS IS GOD’S PURPOSE OF PLACING INFINITE VALUE ON WHAT OTHERWISE WOULD BE MERE DUST AND ASHES. AS WE WALK WITH JESUS TO THE CROSS, AND THEN, THROUGH THE CROSS, TO WHAT FOLLOWS, WE COME TO KNOW WHO GOD IS, AND WHAT IT IS THAT HE WANTS OF US. ALL GOD ASKS OF US IS THAT WE LOVE HIM, THAT WE REMEMBER WE ARE SINNERS, AND REPENT AND BELIEVE IN WHAT HIS SON HAS DONE FOR US. IN SO DOING, WE CAN LIVE A LIFE OF PIOUS LOVE THAT IS BASED ON HIS LOVE FOR US, RATHER THAN A PIETY BASED ON HUMAN RECOGNITION AND REWARD; WE CAN LIVE A LIFE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS BASED ON GOD’S GOODNESS AND MERCY TO US IN THE CROSS OF JESUS.

SO LET US WALK THE WAY OF THE CROSS TOGETHER, BEGINNING WITH THE SIGN OF OUR MORTALITY ON OUR FOREHEADS; WALKING TOGETHER THROUGH THESE FORTY DAYS AND NIGHTS AS JESUS MOVES INEXORABLY TO THE CROSS OF HIS SACRIFICE FOR US. LET US WALK TOGETHER EVERY STEP OF THE JOURNEY WITH JESUS, EVEN TO THE COMING DARK DAYS OF HIS LYING IN THE TOMB. IF WE DO SO, THEN, IN THE HUSHED DARKNESS OF THE EVENING WHICH HERALDS THE BEGINNING OF THE THIRD DAY, WE WILL SEE THE LIGHT OF THE HOLY FIRE BURST INTO FLAMES, AND HEAR THE VOICE OF THE DEACON INTONE, “THE LIGHT OF CHRIST!” WITH THAT LIGHT AND THAT PROCLAMATION, WE WILL KNOW THAT THE ASHES OF OUR MORTALITY HAVE BEEN CONSUMED FOREVER BY THE LIGHT OF GOD’S GLORY IN HIS SON, JESUS.

SO, LET US BEGIN OUR WALK TO THE CROSS TOGETHER.
AMEN.

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