Ash Wednesday is coming up. I have mentioned to a few people I will be attending Ash Wednesday services and I either get strange comments or strange looks. I am not here to suggest this is something you should or must do. I am in simplest form going to try to explain what Ash Wednesday Service means to me and why I participate. I must emphasize again I am not a scholar; these are my beliefs and what I understand it to be.
We have read the Old Testament many times over. We read of many people wearing sackcloth and ashes. I wanted to know more about this. So I did some digging on the computer. Sackcloth, as I understand it was used as debasement, repentance and mourning. Debasement according to my Thesaurus is humiliation, disgrace and shame. Sackcloth was a coarse material usually made of black goat’s hair, making it quite uncomfortable to wear. I understand it was scratchy and uncomfortable. When I was younger I can remember my mom putting a wool sweater on me and I use to hate it. It was scratchy and uncomfortable; similar to sackcloth in my estimation. Instead of wearing your regular clothes to mourn or show humiliation or repentance you wore sackcloth. This would be a constant reminder you were in mourning, or you were repenting or showing disgrace. Some wore sackcloth when they were fasting reminding them to pray instead of eating.
In Ester 4:1 we read this, “When Mordecai learned what had been done, he ripped his clothes to shreds and put on sackcloth and ashes. Then he went out in the streets of the city crying out in loud and bitter cries. He came only as far as the King’s Gate, for no one dressed in sackcloth was allowed to enter the King’s Gate. As the king’s order was posted in every province, there was loud lament among the Jews—fasting, weeping, wailing. And most of them stretched out on sackcloth and ashes.” Mordecai was in mourning along with his fellow Jews because of an edict that the Jews should be done away with. Most of us would be in mourning if we knew our people was about to be destroyed. I am thinking it’s like striking or marching in protest today. In order to bring attention to your situation they wore sackcloth and ashes.
Jonah 3:6-9, “The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” Jonah proclaimed to the people of Nineveh God was coming to overthrow them because of their wickedness. When the King of Nineveh heard the message he issued a statement saying the people of Nineveh would repent and to show their repentance they would wear sackcloth and sit in ashes.
So here are two examples; one is mourning and the other repentance. There are some other really good examples in the Bible of people wearing sackcloth. For humility I am thinking if you put on sackcloth it will remind you to be humble. No fancy clothes, no comfort, just being humble before God.
Now if we did these things today people would have us committed. So instead once a year we have a service called Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is also the start of the Lenten Season. Lenten is the time before Christ’s death on the cross. It covers six weeks. The purpose of these six weeks is the preparation for Christ’s death and resurrection. We are to prepare our hearts and minds for the week of Easter.
Ash Wednesday is the start of this period. For me it is important to observe Ash Wednesday. I know I am not as I should be. I am not where God wants me to be. I am human and therefore I sin. Ash Wednesday is a time for me to go and repent of my sins so I can begin preparing for Easter. It is also a time of mourning for me. Christ dying on the cross is bittersweet. I am so thankful that God sent His only Son to die on the cross for me, but at the same time I mourn for all the things He went through so that could happen. Reading about the things Christ went through sometimes does not go through, but seeing the movie Passion of the Christ and actually seeing what He went through makes a big impact on me. I have been through some difficult times, but none of them compares to what Christ went through for me, which brings me to humility. Who am I that Christ should suffer for me? I have to fall on my knees and humble myself and bow down to Him for all He has done for me.
The ashes placed on the forehead for me is a remembrance of death. I know this body is just a body and it is my spirit that will rise again and be with Christ, but placing the ashes on my head is a reminder I am only here for a period of time. It’s a reminder that one day this body will return to ashes. It’s a reminder that I must prepare myself for God’s coming.
So for me Ash Wednesday is not just some strange worship service where people come out with ashes on their head. For me it’s a time of repentance, a time for mourning and a time for humility. Ash Wednesday is a time of preparation; a time to remember who I belong to, what He has done for me and to remember I have a loving Father that forgives me and loves me beyond anything I can even imagine.
How do you prepare for Easter? We can’t put on sackcloth and wear ashes on our head, but we can observe it in one evening and that one evening is called, Ash Wednesday. I hope you are open to attending an Ash Wednesday at the church of your choice.
Dear God: As I attend Ash Wednesday Services help me in my preparation during Lent. May I always be mindful of who You are and who I am. Be with me as I remember what Your Son did for me and the torture He went through so I may have eternal life. Thank you for forgiving me of my sins. I am so grateful you take an eraser and you don’t even remember them. Be with all of those who will observe Ash Wednesday service, may their lives be touched and may they feel your Presence in their lives. Amen.