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Ash Wednesday…

February 18, 2015


I was very intentional in taking this picture. The focus is not on me, or is it really on the cross of ashes on my forehead. How does the pastor have ashes put on his forehead? When his sweet wife offers to place them on his forehead after she has received hers, that’s how 🙂 One of the many things I love about Denise!

Anyway, the focus is not on the visible ashes, but rather is on Ash Wednesday and the Lenten journey. I just finished conducting the Ash Wednesday Noon Service at First Presbyterian Church in DeFuniak Springs, Florida where I am the pastor. We had the service, heard Isaiah 58:1-12 read, heard a brief reflection, prayed together, and then went downstairs to the fellowship hall for the first of our Lenten Soup Luncheons.

I was reflecting on the reading from Isaiah afterwards.  Isaiah was getting after the people because of their failure to repent and truly follow God. They asked God, why don’t you take notice of our piety as we practice it in front of everyone? God’s response? “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.” (Isaiah 58:3c-4)

Instead, the prophet told the people what God really wanted from them!  “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? ” (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Sometimes I think we get caught up with the symbolism and the ritual surrounding Ash Wednesday without truly thinking about it’s meaning. But then don’t we do that with so much that we do in worship or study or prayer? Instead, shouldn’t we truly meditate on the ritual? Shouldn’t we immerse ourselves in the meaning of the ashes? Shouldn’t we immerse ourselves in what Christ is calling us to be and to do each and every day?

One thing I did differently this year with the ashes was to mix anointing oil with them. The oil I used has a combination of scents (frankincense and myrrh). I was struck by the fact that I was using scents which the Jesus would have smelled when the Wise Men gave him their gifts plus the fact that these oils and spices would have been used when they prepared his body for burial. The ashes represent the fact that from dust we came and to dust we shall return. They also represent our intention to confess and repent especially during this season of self-reflection and examination. And the oil reminds me of the sweet aroma of Christ’s forgiveness, redemption, and restoration offered to all.

This year, after the service, I will do something slightly different. Thanks to my dear Sister in Christ, Brigid Clare, I have a new thought for what I should do after the service. I will wipe the ashes off of my forehead, but the scent of the oil shall remain. After all, it isn’t really about the outward symbol of ashes on your forehead, is it? The scent of the oil with which I have been anointed will remind me of what God has asked me to do this day.

And what was I asked to do this day? What I have been asked, what all who are Christ-followers have been asked to do this and every day? Make my faith less about show and more about seeing Christ in others. The words of Isaiah foreshadow the words of Christ in his parable about the sheep and the goats, don’t they? “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you  gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

May God bless your Lenten journey, dear reader, and may you hear God’s call to live your life for Christ in all you say and do.

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  1. oakabbey permalink

    It is such a blessing to read this, Dear Brother. I am homebound due to the ice storm here in my neck of the woods; unable to attend a service for Ash Wednesday. (Most have been cancelled, or postponed and will take place as part of Sunday morning worship.) Somehow in reading your words, (and seeing your forehead!) I feel a sense of participation with the Body of Christ upon this Holy Day which is the Gateway to such a profoundly Special Season. It has certainly not been a “normal” Ash Wednesday for me, but it has been blessed with a spirit of tenderness that has brought me to tears. Thank you for being part of that Gift of Divine Tenderness today.
    Wishing you and yours a most beautiful and holy Lenten Season. ❤

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