“There’s dirt on your forehead.” I used to make that comment to some of my friends in college. Not having been raised in a liturgical church, I had no idea it was Ash Wednesday. When I was informed their foreheads were covered with ash, and not dirt, I didn’t see the point of all the mess.
Since those college years, I’ve had a change of heart. When my congregation began to hold Ash Wednesday services, I went out of curiosity. I continued to go, because those services, and the other special Lenten observances, began to move me quite deeply. In them, God voice began to break through to my heart. Three years after the services began, I finally stopped running from God’s call on Easter Sunday. I firmly believe the Lenten observance had a great deal to do with my becoming open to God's call to pastoral ministry.
Today is Ash Wednesday. When we receive ashes today, we acknowledge that God formed us from dust and that to dust we will return. In other words, we declare our complete dependence on God. We also visibly acknowledge that as human beings we are sinners and that we are sorry for our sin. Our wearing ashes also declares to God, and to our sisters and brothers, that we humbly ask God’s help in turning our lives around.
This Ash Wednesday is also an opportunity to dedicate ourselves to live a holy Lent; a Lent in which we can examine our past as congregations, as pastors, and as congregants,, and search for the path where God leads us into the future. I pray you’ll join in this ritual at your local congregation this Ash Wednesday. Go if you’re merely curious. Go if you’d like to explore a tradition of repentance from the ancient history of Christ’s church. But above all go, if you’d like to begin a Lenten journey with the intent of deepening your relationship with our Creator.