Ash Wednesday 2016

A reading for Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016: Mark 9:30-37.

In the ancient world, sackcloth and ashes were a sign of grief and mourning. There are references throughout the Old Testament of when God's people, even kings, spent time in sackcloth and ashes. Jacob mourned. King David called the whole kingdom to sit in sackcloth. Of course, Job sat in grief and many of the prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah called the people to repent. Nehemiah 9:1, "Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads."

Sackcloth and ashes were a sign to others that someone was grieving and mourning. It was a time out from the busy schedule and constant striving to recognize the state of their lives and the world. It was an effort to realign again with God's intent and hope for transforming God's people and the world. Ashes are still that symbol...

When we put ashes on our heads, with the pastor uttering the words, "From dust you have come and to dust you will return" we are re-enacting the ancient tradition of sackcloth and ashes. This is the beginning of the season of Lent, a time of reflection over the state of our lives and the world around us. It is grief. It is the hope of realigning ourselves again with God's intent for our lives and the world.

In the lesson today Jesus asked the disciples what they were arguing about, only to discover that they were still striving for greatness among themselves. They failed to see the need to serve. They didn't understand what it meant to be part of God's mission.

This is the day when, even if we don't get our ashes (weather in Nashville), we can still imagine ourselves in sackcloth and ashes. We can still embrace our grief. The culture around us will not pause to allow us to do that, but as God's people we might still embrace the ancient tradition. Perhaps alone in the silence of a cold winter night is the proper way to wear our ashes anyway?

Truth is this is the path to Easter and resurrection. We must go through the ashes and the grief, in order to get to the hope of the gospel. Jesus said, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again."

Even for this we say... Thanks be to God!


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