22 February 2023

We live in a world that doesn’t particularly enjoy self-examination or facing our own shadows. There is much that would call us to think about life, our potential, and reaching for our dreams, but very little to call us to see ourselves truly and confront those things within us that are destructive. This is why we need times like Ash Wednesday. Although it may be painful to acknowledge our brokenness, our selfishness and our capacity for destruction, ultimately, life can only be found by traveling through this “valley of the shadow of death”. So, Ash Wednesday is not just a day of repentance and solemnity. It is also a day of celebration and possibility – the possibility of life in abundance.

May our repentance and honesty lead us to life as we worship this day.

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17: A proclamation that the Day of the Lord has arrived, with a call for repentance, and a plea for God’s mercy.
OR Isaiah 58:1-12: True fasting requires repentance and justice, not just going through the motions.

Psalm 51:1-17: David’s plea for God to cleanse him after his adultery with Bathsheba is exposed by Nathan the prophet.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10: Paul explains the suffering he and other apostles have endured in order to proclaim God’s appeal for repentance, and God’s offer of salvation.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21: The most authentic way to give, fast and pray – Jesus explains the true practice of the Lenten disciplines.

The Ash Wednesday theme is easy to identify – Our lives, like David’s, are on a trajectory of self-destruction and harm to others. God calls us to hear his warning and convicting voice, and to turn back to the ways of mercy, justice and humble service. The way God offers is not an easy or comfortable way, but it is the way of life. And so, while Ash Wednesday is a day of solemnity and repentance, recognising that we are “sinners in need of a Saviour”, it is also a day of celebration, because what is offered to us is a path that leads to life. And so, as we begin the metaphorical  journey of following Jesus through the wilderness, we are given, already now – right at the beginning – a glimpse of the resurrection that awaits.

GLOBAL APPLICATION:  It seems to have become a normal practice to deny responsibility or to avoid acknowledging when our actions are destructive or harmful. Little true repentance has followed the economic crisis, a lot of work is being done to deny human responsibility for climate change, and the broken systems that burden developing countries with debt that outweighs whatever aid they receive are not easily acknowledged in the corridors of power. Yet, before we can possibly begin to create the world we long for, we must admit our sin – our greed, our carelessness, our ignorance, our self-centredness, our idolatry, our consumption. And to do this work of repentance effectively, we need a global spiritual revival, for only in the light of God’s reign can we see our need, and get a vision for what we, as a species, can become.

LOCAL APPLICATION: While David’s repentance after the Bathsheba incident is famous, it’s always bothered me that it took a confrontation by Nathan the prophet to bring out this repentance. What would repentance look like if we made it a habit that we practiced without confrontation? Ash Wednesday offers us a doorway into developing the discipline of confession and repentance, which not only builds our spiritual connection with God, but which also strengthens our relationships, gives us a clearer and more humble perspective on ourselves, and which leads us to live well in the world, bringing life, rather than bringing pain. Where in our communities and churches could we use a more consistent practice of repentance?

The Wisdom of Ash

Hymn Suggestions:
Blow Ye The Trumpet, Blow
Jesus, Priceless Treasure
Just As I Am
No Sack Cloth
Lord Have Mercy (Link to YouTube video)
Change My Heart, O God (Link to YouTube video)
Show Us The Ancient Paths (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for Ash Wednesday

Video Suggestions
Lenten Reflection
A Clean Heart