In my previous post, I wrote about the benefits of the Lenten season as a time to observe spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, and repentance. For most people unfamiliar with Lenten practices, this is an easy sell.
Ash Wednesday is the harder sell. If you've never been a part of the more liturgical streams of Christianity, the idea of Ash Wednesday might seem odd. Maybe you've noticed that one day a year you'll see people walking around in public with a black cross smudged on their forehead and wondered what it was all about? Or if I was honest, I used to be judgmental of people who observed Ash Wednesday. I wrote them off as people enslaved to religious ritual with no real personal expression of faith. That's called pride and I needed to repent.
A few years ago, as I became more and more interested in observing Lent, I decided to attend my first Ash Wednesday worship service. So that day, I attended the noonday service at Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, AR. In this large, ornate, stained-glass sanctuary about a hundred people took their lunch breaks to receive the imposition of ashes.
Even as I walked in, I was still silently judging the whole thing. It was the kind of church that I would have normally assumed was spiritually dry and void of real communion with God and His Spirit. I judged them for their traditional decor, expensive and elaborate pipe organ, and what I perceived as their lack of passionate worship.
I was wrong.
When the pastor took the pulpit to read the scriptures and share a short message, his words cut to my heart. Ashes represent sorrow and grief. They represent death and destruction. They represent the finite nature of humanity.
I, the ordained Pentecostal minister, needed that day to hear a call to repentance. I needed to be reminded of my own sinfulness apart from Christ. I needed to be reminded that but for the grace of God, I would not have a future nor any hope. Life, I was reminded, apart from Christ is a life of sorrow and grief with no hope for a better tomorrow.
I walked in full of spiritual pride.
But I went to the altar rail, stood in front of a kind-faced female pastor garbed in a liturgical robe and stole, and got ashes rubbed on my forehead. She knowingly looked me in the eye as she drew an ashen cross and said, "Repent and believe the gospel."
It's hard to stay prideful when someone's literally rubbing dirt on your face.
And it's hard to stay prideful when someone, somehow knows you need to repent and calls you out on it in the kindest way possible.
I'm usually the one preaching about believing the gospel. I'm used to being the one guiding people to repent and come to Christ. But that day, I needed the ashes and I needed the reminder.
I went from the pastor straight to kneeling at the altar rail. And I cried like a baby.
It's hard to stay prideful when you're blubbering at the altar as dozens of people walk by you on their way to get a quick lunch. But I stayed and lingered in His presence as long as I could. I was reminded that I am but dust and my only hope is in the one who takes our ashes and gives us beauty.
Sometimes we need those reminders. Sometimes we need the ashes to really see the beauty. Sometimes we need the sorrow so we can really feel the joy.
Ash Wednesday may not be your cup of tea. That's ok. No hard feelings. It's not a requirement, and it's not a way to "get in good with the man upstairs." We should only ever participate in spiritual disciplines and practices if they are going to help us grow in God's grace. So there's no pressure. But there is an invitation: An invitation to step out of what we think we already know, repent of our spiritual pride and complacency, and be renewed by the grace of God through true repentance.
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Come worship with us. Unique opportunities for worship include:
Ash Wednesday Worship Service
6:30pm - Wednesday, February 26th, 2020
Good Friday Worship Service
6:30pm - Friday, April 10th, 2020
Easter Sunday Celebration
10am Free Pancake Breakfast
11am Worship Service
Sunday, April 11th, 2020
Or worship with us any Sunday at 11am!
16194 W Hwy 10
Belleville, AR 72824