In college, I let my suite mates convince me to join them in painting our chests and faces with our school colors before the big game. It was a painful experience as the hot climate of Campbell University’s basketball arena produced sweat on my forehead, causing the paint to run into my eyes. Getting the paint off was an exercise in patience, taking nearly three days to get it all off the hard-to-reach places.
What is about our favorite sports teams that cause us to pay thousands of dollars in tickets, gear, tailgating, and maybe a little body paint to cheer them on? What makes those crazy Green Bay Packer’s fans stand out in subzero temperatures with their shirts off?
As much as I love my favorite teams, I often reflect on how much time and energy is spent on them in comparison to, let’s say, my outward devotion to Christ. Sure, I study the Scriptures daily, have spiritual conversations, pray, and worship. But am I willing to mark my body out of devotion to Jesus?
Ash Wednesday is one of those rare days that we are invited to mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross out of solidarity for the sacrifice of Christ. The marking of the body with ashes reaches back thousands of years, as people did so as an emotional and spiritual symbol of humility, repentance, and mourning. See the story of Ester (4:1), Job (42:6), Jonah (3:5-6), Moses (Exodus 9:8-10), and Isaiah (61:3, 44:20) for starters.The usage of Ashes continues into the New Testament and in the early church writings of Tertullian and Eusebius. The “Day of Ashes” ritual is found in the earliest editions of the Gregorian Sacramentary, which dates at least to the 8th century.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, in which we are invited to spiritually sojourn with Jesus to Jerusalem and his ultimate crucifixion. It is a spiritual season of reflection, prayer, confession, sacrifice, and growth.
Being marked with Ash is an outward symbol of an inward spiritual commitment. It is a way of saying that we are finite creatures, “Remember you are dust, and dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19), loved by an infinite Creator who calls us to change our way of thinking and living each day through Jesus. The ashes used come from the burned branches of Palm Sunday mixed with oil.
I invite you on this Lenten journey, beginning with Ash Wednesday on March 2. At noon, we will gather in the Chapel for a time of fasting for lunch, meditating, praying, and receiving ashes. We invite you to come into the worship space in quiet contemplation..