Ash Wednesday Devotion
Explanation for Ash Wednesday
Resurrection Sunday, commonly called Easter, is the most important day on the Christian calendar where we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead and created a path for us to enter into relationship with God. Without it, there are no Christians and no church. It is critical that we prepare our hearts and minds for that special day.
For centuries, people have prepared for Easter with a 6 week season called Lent during which we seek to connect with God in special ways by calling to mind our need for forgiveness and making special commitments. Ash Wednesday is the first day in the season.
Why ashes? They are a vivid reminder of our own mortality. Traditionally, the ashes are placed on one’s forehead, but you may also receive them on your hand with these simple but poignant words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Please read the following devotion in preparation for receiving the ashes.
“Smudges on the Soul: A Meditation for Ash Wednesday” edited from umcdiscipleship.org
Joel 2 (selections)
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain!Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near…Yet even now,” says the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing… Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.”
I would rather wear the smudge on my forehead than to admit its residence upon my soul. I prefer a crude cross above my eyes to questions about watery eyes or a downturned face. In a culture where self-confidence is rewarded and signs of weakness or emotion are suspect, it is difficult to consider actually following the advice of the prophet to return to the Lord with fasting, with weeping and with mourning. It is, however, acceptable (and maybe even fashionable or trendy) to appear in public with a dirty forehead as a sign that I have religion. It is amazing how the symbols of piety - sackcloth and ashes - can be transformed into a mask that hides me from myself and dodges the intent of Ash Wednesday.
“Blow the trumpet in Zion,” the prophet said. Not the trumpet that signals advance to war, or the trumpet that celebrates victory, but the one that warns trembling penitents that the day of the Lord is coming. Blow the trumpet that warns a penitent like me to wear the smudge of ashes long after my face has been washed and to admit the smudge on the one place that matters to God, my heart.
“Blow the trumpet in Zion,” the prophet said, and sanctify a fast. Hear the call to push away from the voracious consumption of everything in my path, for at least a time, in hopes that my self-created hunger for one thing through abstinence might oddly nurture a hunger for something much greater - sustenance for my soul rather than sustenance for my body.
“Rend your hearts and not your garments,” the prophet said. The gift of the day is personal reflection, a season of confession, and change. Start the arduous journey from shadow to substance, from ritual to reality, from façade to faith. Today, choose the harder course. It is easier to buy new clothing than to mend a soul.