“remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality and the inevitability of our death. When we receive the ashes on our foreheads the priest or deacon will say, “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The liturgy of Ash Wednesday is not however unconnected from the events of the Passion and Resurrection. The Psalmist reminds us that our Father also remembers even in our rebellion that we “are but flesh, a breath that passes away and does not come again.” Psalm 78.39
It is a good thing that the Church calls us to pause and reflect on not only our mortality but also the struggle we all face with sin, the world, and the devil. Even in our baptism we are signed with the sign of the cross. This sign, done with the oil of chrism, seals us as Christ’s own forever while at the same time reminding us that we participate in the life of Christ crucified and are called into the great spiritual warfare in the heavens.
The Church calls us on Ash Wednesday to a holy season of prayer and fasting. This prayer and fasting is an ancient tradition of the church. This season will, in light of the love of Christ Jesus, enable us to make a serious self-examination and confess, with the intent of amendment of life, our sins. It is a time to seek the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) for self-examination must always be done with the knowledge of the assurance of forgiveness. This is not a time of accusation and condemnation but a time when we can lament our sins knowing we are loved and forgiven. For as John reminds us, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is no in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all un-righteousness. (I John 1.8-9) James tells us, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5.16)
It has been said, “we are merely beggars telling other beggars where to find food.” In Lent as we are reminded of our sin and the forgiveness of Christ we are also allowing the Holy Spirit to transform and conform our hearts to the loving heart of Christ. Lent motivates us to fulfill the great commission. It reminds us, as we participate in the reconciling work of Christ Jesus that the primarily mission of the Church is the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5.19) The message of the Church is that God loves us and has demonstrated this love on the cross. (Romans 5.8)
Our prayer during Lent should be for an increase awareness of the love of Christ, which will inflame and renew in us a desire for evangelization.
So we should heed the call of our fathers in God when they call us to a most holy Lent. It is good news to our ears. It is a call to remind us of the shortness of life, the reality and horror of our sins, and the incredible and awesome love of God made manifest in the Cross and Resurrection and proclaimed at every Holy Eucharist.
Under His Mercy,
The Most Rev’d Craig W. Bates