The fire alarm went crazy as billows of black smoke ascended upwards and into the waiting sensors. The thought that immediately came to mind was, “it seemed like a good idea when we were planning this.” Have you ever been there? Trying to burn the palm leaves from the previous year, in the sanctuary, so that the ashes could be used for the Ash Wednesday Service only to realize that the smoke detectors presented a problem.
The imposition of ashes is an important part of our Lenten tradition. We are reminded of our own mortality and of our impending demise. The ashes serve as a symbol of our departure from vibrancy and life to death and decay. However, Ash Wednesday is NOT a day of doom and gloom, but a day of blessed assurance. We receive the ashes in the shape of a cross as a reminder that our hope extends beyond the grave and its hopeless cycle of deterioration. Our hope is in the One who conquered death, hell and the grave. We receive the ashes as a testimony of our confidence in Jesus Christ.
My mother, while working around the house, sang an old gospel song that says, “my soul look back and wonder how I got over.” The Lenten season is a time for extended spiritual reflection and preparation for the celebration of Easter. It is a period of organized soul searching and recommitment to the claim and the cause of Christ in and upon our lives. During this time, we cry out like the psalmist in Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
The forty days of Lenten observance are designed to end with the joyful celebration of the triumphant Christ. Jesus has been victorious and has promised that his successful conquest will yield a harvest of righteousness within those committed to following him. Lent is often observed with extended periods for fasting and repentance because sometimes we fall short of the standard Christ requires. The Lenten Season is a time when we ask the Lord to forgive us and to repair any area of our life that is not consistent with the gospel. Our goal is to have hearts and lives that are fully yielded and totally obedient to our Savior.
My mother was not a theologian, but she knew from personal experience what she was talking about. I can still see her moving around the house tending to her chores singing. Every once in a while, she would raise her hands in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for what he had done in her life. Sometimes she would even stop and shout! The lyrics still stand out, “When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all He’s done for me. If it had not been for His mercy, only God knows where I would be. He brought me through great trials in spite of the enemies. My soul look back and wonder how I got over.”
During the imposition of ashes, as you are challenged to remember your own mortality, pause for a moment and thank the Lord that the victory both then and now was secured for us through the blood stained cross. God presented us with the proof of Christ’s conquest on Easter Sunday morning as the stone was rolled away and Jesus arose from the grave.
Now I know why my mother would stop and shout in the midst of her work. She was grateful for God’s grace. My hope is that you will experience a fresh outpouring of God’s mercy during this Lenten season. I’m not sure what church I will be in on Easter Sunday, but I guarantee I’ll be ready to shout.