Ash Wednesday Service
St. Catherine’s Lutheran Church, Kiev
18 February 2015
Today is Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of the season of Lent - the six-week period leading up to Easter. Lent is a time to make our hearts ready. Ready for remembering the death and burial of Jesus, and ready to celebrate his resurrection with a joyous Easter Sunday.
Many people think of Lent as a time to give up something. Chocolate, maybe. Or coffee, or wine, or meat. Some comfort or habit. And yes, Lent is traditionally a time of penitence – of being reminded of our sinfulness. Giving up something may be a way to express our desire for repentance and change. We want to turn away from old habits and sins to more fully embrace the new life that Christ offers to us.
On Ash Wednesday we are marked with ashes. The ashes remind us that we are dust – we are mortal. We are destined for death. And these are the words we hear: "For dust you are and to dust you shall return". These are the words God spoke to Adam and Eve after they chose to turn away from God. Death came into the world when they chose to do things their own way.
Lent reminds us that mankind’s relationship with God is broken. As human beings, our relationship with God needs to be restored. We all need to be reconciled to God. We need to be forgiven by God. We cannot “fix” ourselves. And so, Lent is a time when we reflect on ourselves –our sinfulness and our need for repentance, our need to be rescued and reconciled to God.
But remember, the ashes are put on your forehead in the shape of the cross. It is by Jesus’ death on the cross, and his resurrection from death that our broken relationship with God is restored. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21) Or put in other words: “Christ never did anything wrong, but God put our wrong on Christ so that we could be put right with God.” (from The Message Bible translation)
This is the good news! By Jesus’ work on the cross, God takes the dust that we are made of and gives it life! He takes the death that we are marked with, and instead, offers us eternal life!
We see here that two things have happened through the cross. God has taken our sin, our rebellion, and put it on Christ, the One who had no sin. And he has taken Christ’s righteousness and put it on us. Easter is about the great exchange. Our sin was poured into Christ at his crucifixion, and his righteousness is poured into us when we receive him by faith. When we respond to his offer, when we receive his offer of life, we are given a new identity. We are made right with God. We are restored to his family.
So Lent is really a time to focus on what Jesus has done for us. Nothing we give up, no amount of regret or sorrow, no amount of being good or doing better or trying harder or punishing ourselves will ever restore us to God. We are reconciled to God by believing and receiving what he has done. If we truly embrace what he offers us by the cross, the way we think, the way we live, our way of being will begin to change.
Because, you see, God’s work of reconciling us to himself is also also an ongoing work. It’s a relationship, after all, and relationships grow as we trust the other with more of our true selves.
Maybe Lent is a good time to talk to God about where we are in our relationship with him. If you’re not sure you have been reconciled to God, I encourage you to receive the ashes as an act of faith -- to repent and receive his reconciling work for you this very day.
Or you may be so aware of your sinfulness that it is hard to see God’s love. Receive the ashes as his promise to you that you have been received as his beloved child. Look into his face and receive what he has done for you. Then let him begin to renew you.
For all of us, this receiving of ashes can be a welcoming of his ongoing work in our lives. All of us are in need of letting go those things that keep us from fully living in our identity as His reconciled children.
Let’s each of us ask God to show us how to live in this new identity – no longer marked by death, but by life. Let’s ask him where he wants to do a deeper work in our lives. Maybe that will mean giving up something. Or maybe it will mean taking up something life-giving. Ask him to show you what that might be. Let’s take a few minutes of quiet as we listen to what he may be speaking to each of us.