Ash Wednesday

Well, the Brits won!  The annual Shrove Tuesday International Pancake race between Olney, England and Liberal, Kansas is over for another year, won by Devon Byrne, who broke the record she set last year, covering the 415 yard course from The Bull Pub to the Olney Parish church while carrying her frying pan and flipping her pancake in 55.61 seconds.  More details in the Wichita Eagle.

If you didn’t read my previous post, this will probably make no sense to you; and if you did read my previous post, it still may not make any sense. You just have to be from Kansas or England.  It was disappointing in reading the article with the race results that there was barely a hint to the religious background.  Instead of calling it the Shrove Tuesday Pancake race, it is now the International Pancake race.  Tsk-tsk, now even the Pancake race has been secularized.

But now that the necessary pancake race is completed, it’s time for Lent, starting on this Ash Wednesday.

Lent involves 40 days of preparation, actually 43, from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday, the commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. What follows are the most important events in history, the sober reflection of Good Friday focusing on the crucifixion death of Jesus, followed by overflowing churches on Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Why Ash Wednesday?  In the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran traditions, and increasingly in numerous protestant and evangelical denominations, Ash Wednesday begins the season of preparation for Holy week,  Ashes, most commonly placed on the forehead in the sign of the cross, are a a symbol of repentance, reminiscent of the “sackcloth and ashes” that go with a time of mourning.

Should we join in this practice of having a cross of ashes on our foreheads?  I don’t have a hard yes or no to the question.  Is it a good thing to be called to repentance and mourning for our sin?  Yes! Is wearing this as a visible sign on your head a good idea?  Not so sure about that! We should not be ashamed of our repentance, but neither is it something to be paraded before others like thehypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.(Matthew 6:5)  God knows your heart and presumably you do as well, though we can easily be self-deceived. So, let’s not judge the motivations of others for their acts, but be sure to do that self-examination.  If it’s a religious show then we need to repent of our public repenting. If it is a reminder to us of our great need of a Savior, then I have no objection. And while I don’t wear a cross of ashes, I confess that it has a positive effect on me to see it on others.

So, to end on the positive side, whatever you do on this Ash Wednesday, whatever your background or tradition, whether or not you wear a cross of ashes, may we all be called to humble reflection that …God demonstrated his own love for us in this; While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8   Whether or not you formally practice Lent, surely in these weeks leading up to Easter, we would benefit from reading and meditating on the Gospel accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What did Jesus do?  Why did Jesus do it? What does that mean for you?  If that doesn’t humble you, ashes on your forehead won’t do it.

2 thoughts on “Ash Wednesday

  1. Good thoughts Tom, and I too wonder whether someone who displays their repentance in such a blatant way is being ostentatious. When I participated in Ash Wednesday last year with patient’s at the hospital. I had ashes put on my forehead to identify with them. For me it was a humbling experience. It also gave me an opportunity to present the gospel to a nurse who asked about it. It can also be ostentatious to wear religious jewelry,such as earrings or necklace, or a cross lapel pin, or putting a fish, or ichthus on your bumper, none of which I do. (However as young Christian college student in the Seventies I did have a cross necklace I wore as a testimony to the peaceniks wearing the dove’s foot.) For some people these things can be acts of worship that can be displayed in a secular context.

    Wearing a symbol can also make you vulnerable to criticism. Several years ago I witnessed a man wearing a Promise Keeper’s tee shirt with a slogan about fathering, beating his toddler with a closed fist in a grocery store. I, among others, called the police. The man was arrested and New York State Child Protective Services got involved. I was so glad I was not wearing any Promise Keeper’s attire at the time.

    So I am very cautious about any wearing of symbols or paraphernalia after that, but is it right or wrong? I appeal to Colossians 2:16. It is a matter of individual conscience.


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