Sharing Our Faith Together

Ash Wednesday

by Andy Cokayne 2 March 2022
First published 17/2/2021. We continue to post new thoughts but hope you find encouragement and blessing from revisiting some we have previously published.

Welcome to our thought for today, Ash Wednesday. We will commence our time with a hymn, which brings to memory God's love for us.

Hymn - Here is love, vast as the ocean

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Reading - Psalm 51 v 1-19

Ash Wednesday is a Christian holy day, and marks the beginning of Lent, the six weeks leading up to Easter. It is a reminder of the period of 40 days Jesus spent in the desert to fast and pray. During which time he was tempted by the Devil as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11, Mark1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13. On this day we are encouraged to focus on prayer, fasting, and repentance. In addition to fasting during this period, many Christians emphasise abstinence, i.e. giving up something for Lent.  

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the minister sprinkling ashes over the head, or marking the sign of the cross on the forehead with ashes, as a sign of repentance, with the words "Repent and believe in the gospel" Mark 1:15 or "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" Genesis 3:19. Both verses remind us that we are mere humans, and therefore in need of repentance. Psalm 51. 

Ashes have been used as a sign of grief, and of sorrow for sins throughout the bible. Job after his long debate, in sorrow says at the end to God in Job 42:5-6 "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." The prophet Jeremiah calls the people of Israel to repent by saying "O my people, put on sackcloth and roll in ashes" Jeremiah 6:26. The prophet Daniel recounted pleading to God "So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes." Daniel 9:3. Jesus himself refers to the practice in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13 where he says "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." 

Ashes along with many other symbolic actions in the Christian life, are an outward sign, a reminder, an encouragement, of what should be an inward happening. The ashes are a symbol of repentance, not a replacement, our attitude today should be that of inward reflection, allowing our loving heavenly Father to put his finger upon things in our lives and hearts that need, with Gods grace and help, to change.

A Psalm that is appropriate for today and is often used is Psalm 51, where David spells out his sinfulness before God "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me" v3. He then sets out his desire, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" v10. Then wants to declare his praise "O Lord, open my lips, and my moth will declare your praise." v15. It is a Psalm well worth reading and re-reading today, asking our Father what he wants you to repent of, that you too may declare his praise.  

Hymn - Rock of ages cleft for me

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Lord, Holy One, have mercy on us. We confess our sins to you. We have fallen short of your glory and without your mercy and grace, we would be dust. We repent now. Lord, as we enter into this Lenten season, be near to us. Help us, by your Holy Spirit, to feel right conviction and repentance for our sin. Help us, by your Spirit, to have the strength to overcome the enemy.
Thank you, Lord, that Easter is coming! Death has no sting, no victory, because of Jesus! Glory and honour and praise to His name! Thank you for rescuing us. Help us keep both the weight and the joy of this season in our hearts as we move through the next weeks. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.