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This Week – Ash Wednesday 3.6.19

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. Lent is 40+ days of disciplined preparation for the celebration of Easter. It concludes with Holy Week. Palm Sunday where we observe the height of Jesus’ ministry and the recognition that he was some kind of king. Maundy Thursday where we try to participate in Jesus last hours. Good Friday where we will join in a vigil as we contemplate the cross. Easter. Resurrection Day. And it’s astounding good news. Death is dead. Lent is preparation for all that. Preparation in the form of self-examination. A 40-day acknowledgement of our need for a savior. It all begins with a dab of ashes on the forehead.
Why ashes? Placing ashes on one’s head was the custom in Israel to demonstrate regret and grief. It was a symbolic confession. A sign of penitence. These are particularly appropriate during Lent. We regret our broken relationship with our creator. The one who took us from the dust of the earth and breathed life into us. The one we are unable, or unwilling, to respect and love. This is what we call “sin”. Sin separates us from God. It sucks the life out of us. And so, we die and return to dust. This is what we hear when the ashes are applied. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” These words are our death sentence. And so, we might think that the grief the ashes symbolize is about our own death.
But that would be wrong. We grieve for Jesus. The one who died in our place. The one who removes the sentence of death. The one who gives us back our life. So that we don’t return to dust. And so, we repent in ashes and dust symbolically confessing our sinfulness and sorrow.
That is what Ash Wednesday is all about. But at John McMillan Presbyterian Church we not only apply ashes, but then immediately offer communion. Why? Because communion is a sign that we are forgiven and the sin that is signified by the ashes is forgiven because of Jesus’ great sacrifice.
Come and join us on Ash Wednesday for dinner at 6:15 and worship at 7:30 with ashes and communion.

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