March 9, 2022 | View PDF
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, and it reminds Christians of two central truths of our human condition. First, we are mortal.
Genesis 3 says we are earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Adam comes from Adamah, meaning soil, the human from humus. Second, we are all sinners, and as Israelite tradition ritualized this, we repent in dust and ashes.
This forty-day journey towards Easter begins by marking our foreheads with dust. We acknowledge that we die and return to the earth. At the same time, the dust traces the life-giving cross indelibly marked on our foreheads at baptism. While we journey through Lent to return to God, we are reminded that we have already been reconciled to God through Christ.
We are called to wonder what is next. This is not just the beginning of Lent; this is the beginning of a whole beginning. The movement is not from start to finish; instead, it is what comes next. The destination itself is an entirely new reality taking shape even now.
We all share and participate in the brokenness of this world, and yet we seem bent on denying it. We act as though our sin and human frailty should be kept hidden, like a secret.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount captivates our minds, focusing on the disciplines typically associated with Lent; almsgiving, fasting, prayer.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
16“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The ashes on our forehead serve as a powerful reminder that there are limitations to our humanity. The ashes serve as a visual cue, a sign of what God, who is in secret, sees in secret. There is Good News, though; the cross traced on our forehead is what God always sees. Like the most loving Mother, God the Father sees our vulnerabilities, sees our needs, remembers the baptismal claim and promise, and is determined to be with us; in spite of our sin, and especially when we are unaware of this saving presence. This forty-day journey invites us to examine our hearts and be attentive to what God desires, which is to turn away from our distortions and return to God’s holy vision of a just world.
Pastor, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church