A couple of years ago, I was watching one of the cable news channels and I noticed the news anchor had a black mark on her forehead. I immediately knew what it was, and I was a bit surprised that she could go on national television, do her job, and have that mark. That day was Ash Wednesday, and clearly this person had participated in the Ash Wednesday service of her church. I thought to myself, what an opportunity to witness to her faith. Clearly, one could not help but notice it, and clearly, she had no reservation in having it noticed.
So what was on her forehead, and what did it mean? Those were ashes on her forehead, and they represented her participation in preparing for the Easter Season of Lent – the forty days leading to Easter.
This practice of observing the forty days before Easter has been in the church since the 7th century. It is a participation in four acts of our faith:
- It is an entering into a season of confession and repentance. It is giving oneself to the examination of our sin and recognizing it for what it is. Through this act, we are drawn into a greater realization of our inability to free ourselves from sin, and thus it makes us understand and have a greater appreciation for the work of salvation that has been freely given in Christ.
- It is a reflection of the forty days of fasting that Jesus undertook in the wilderness. It is wrestling against Satan, but it is not a wrestling against him on his terms or in our own strength. When Jesus wrestled with Satan, He used the Word of God against him. Jesus put His trust wholly in God and demonstrates how in (our) weakness He is strong.
- It is a preparation for Easter. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a season of anticipation for Easter. There is something good about anticipation. There is the act of waiting, of longing, of realizing at the end of struggle there is victory. The victory, of course, is not ours; it is the victory of the Cross of Christ, for only in Christ, do we have the victory.
- It is a sign of the recognition that we know who we are before God. God is the Creator, and we are the created. The ashes placed on the forehead are placed there with the words, “Thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” This is taken from Gen. 3:19 when God pronounces judgment upon Adam’s sin. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our humanity, our fallen condition, and the reality that even in judgment, God is showing us mercy.
The invitation of Ash Wednesday is to enter into preparation for the pinnacle event of all history – The Crucifixion. We hope you can join us for our Ash Wednesday Service at CF this year.