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An Ash Wednesday Meditation

Ash Wednesday is the traditional start of the season of Lent, a season when we focus in various ways on Christ’s journey towards crucifixion, a journey He took, knowing full well it would end with Him laying down His life for you and me.

For those of us who are trying to hear the voice of Christ and follow, we need regular times of focusing on Christ’s call to follow, to lay down our lives for one another. Lent is one of those times- a period of 40 days not including Sundays which are given to considering what we will lay down, what we will not. What our lives count for, or how they fail to count. We hear the call of Jesus and struggle all over again to die to ourselves and live for Christ and others. The journey of the next 40 days ends on Good Friday and Easter with us seeing in sharp relief the exact cost of our sin, and the means by which God will restore all things.

The journey of the next 40 days ends on Good Friday and Easter with us seeing in sharp relief the exact cost of our sin, and the means by which God will restore all things. Click To Tweet

Ash Wednesday begins Lent by reminding us that the journey towards the Cross is one every Christ-follower must make- step by step, selfish impulse by selfish impulse. And Ash Wednesday also reminds us that the time is finite, limited because it reminds us of our mortality.

In Genesis as God explains the consequences of their sin to Adam and Eve, He makes this statement: You are dust and to dust you shall return.

Has anyone ever told you that? No? It’s not something we often say to one another… at least very often. “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Ash Wednesday is a day to remember that our days are numbered- that our lives, no matter how long we live, are short. That every day is a gift and with it, we serve either God or ourselves. We spend it either binding ourselves tighter and tighter to the things, idols, or following more and more closely in the steps of Jesus. The problem is, we really can’t do both. We’re heading in either one direction or the other.

Ash Wednesday is a day to remember that our days are numbered- that our lives, no matter how long we live, are short. Click To Tweet

And even when we are heading in a generally God-ward direction, it’s all too easy to pick up extraneous baggage- things which slow us down, things which hinder us in this race we are trying to run.

Hebrews says:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.”

“Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up” While it should be an all-day, everyday kind of thing, the reality is- we forget. We forget to “throw off” the things that slow us down. We pick up attachments, we pick up weights, we pick up sin. And Lent is that intentional time in the Christian calendar when we begin to think about putting things down again.

One of the most beautiful parts of this time of Lent is that it shows us just how deep the connections we have made throughout the year with this world go- how deep our need for self-soothing through sweets, food, alcohol, TV, or whatever has become. How little we have relied on Jesus and how much we have relied on everything else… on things that will themselves ultimately become nothing more than ashes and dust.

Many churches set aside the palms from Palm Sunday, and the next year, as Ash Wednesday approaches, they are burned and form the ashes for an Ash Wednesday service. What represented our praise and declaration of Jesus’ lordship in our lives on Palm Sunday, on Ash Wednesday represents our repentance at the ways in which we have stumbled this last year, the ways in which we have practically denied Jesus’ kingship, His authority. Our sorrow for the sin which has so easily… too easily, entangled us.

The church season of Lent assumes (and rightly so) that we like sheep have a tendency to wander. That we are easily prone to veer off the path of discipleship. That we are regularly allured by the distractions and temptations that come before our eyes. It also assumes that through the course of another year lived amongst broken and rebellious people, as a broken and rebellious person myself, that is easy to harden our heart toward God and toward one another.

On Ash Wednesday and during this season God calls us back to himself. He calls on each of us to put to death the sin and indifference we have in our hearts toward God and our brothers and sisters.  God calls us to enter into the joy of the Lord- the joy of a new life born out of a death to the old life. That is what Ash Wednesday is about- the fundamental change of life required of those who would die with Jesus and be raised to a new life in him.  

A Prayer for this Ash Wednesday

Most holy and merciful Father:

We confess to you and to one another,

and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth,

that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed;

by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind, and strength.

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

We have been deaf to your call to serve, as Christ served us.

We have not been true to the mind of Christ.

We have grieved your Holy Spirit.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

We confess to you, Lord, all our past unfaithfulness:

the pride, hypocrisy, and impatience of our lives,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our self-indulgent appetites and ways,

and our exploitation of other people,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our anger at our own frustration,

and our envy of those more fortunate than ourselves,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts,

and our dishonesty in daily life and work,

We confess to you, Lord.

Our negligence in prayer and worship,

and our failure to commend the faith that is in us,

We confess to you, Lord.

Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:

for our blindness to human need and suffering,

and our indifference to injustice and cruelty,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

For all false judgments,

for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors,

and for our prejudice and contempt toward those 
who differ from us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

For our waste and pollution of your creation,

and our lack of concern for those who come after us,

Accept our repentance, Lord.

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;

Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.

Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,

That we may show forth your glory in the world.

By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,

Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.

 So, we invite you this year, to observe Lent, of self-examination and repentance; of prayer, and fasting, of saying “no” to self and “yes” to God and others; and of reading and meditating on God’s Word, listening all over again for the call of Christ on your life.

How have you or how will you be celebrating Lent in your Fresh Expression? Share with us in the comments!

 

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Bob Hyatt

Bob is the Director of Equipping and Spiritual Formation for the Ecclesia Network. He’s the co-author of Eldership and the Mission of God: Equipping Teams for Faithful Church Leadership as well as Ministry Mantras: Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture. He planted the Evergreen Community in Portland, OR in 2004 and holds a DMin from George Fox/Portland Seminary. Bob currently lives in Boise, ID with his wife, Amy, his kids, Jack, Jane, and Josie and his dog, Bentley.

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