Read this slowly. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin, and be faithful to Christ..”
These words are pronounced in the sombre dim of flickering candlelight, while a priest or pastor marks the sign of a cross on the foreheads of penitent faithful with black ashes. It is a symbol of my mortality, a sign that my life is as fleeting as shadows cast around the walls. A reminder that it is by grace alone that I receive eternal life in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
As the service ends, the believers walk out with their candles into the night, the sign of the cross imposed with ashes marked on their foreheads for all to see. Simultaneously an imprint of sin, and proclamation of its Gospel solution.
Thus, Christians have traditionally marked the first day of Lent, which we know as Ash Wednesday. The beginning of 40 days of introspection, self-examination and reflection, just as Jesus spent 40 days tempted in the wilderness — a fitting preparation leading up to remembrance of the Cross.
Lord, give us true repentance;
forgive us our sins of negligence and ignorance
and our deliberate sins;
and grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit
to amend our lives according to your holy word.
holy and strong,
holy and immortal,
have mercy upon us.
In the Ash Wednesday liturgy, there are extensive call and response segments as the leader calls the congregation to reflect on their sins and confess them to God. One poignant segment begins with “Let us now call to mind our sin, and the infinite mercy of God,” which opens an extended response of “Have mercy upon us” and “Good Lord, deliver us.”
We do well to reflect on some of these calls, not just in light of our personal sin, but as we face the grievous hurt that our collective sin has inflicted on the world.
Consider the Ukraine crisis.
Consider the corrupting influence of modern capitalism.
Consider the drug abuse crisis.
Consider social oppression and economic injustice.
Consider how human actions are destroying God’s good world.
Consider the darkness of your own heart.
From all evil and mischief;
From pride, vanity, and hypocrisy;
From envy, hatred, and malice;
And from all evil intent,
Good Lord, deliver us
God the Father,
God the Son,
God the Holy Spirit,
Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity,
Have mercy upon us
Ash Wednesday calls us to reflection, repentance, and renewal of commitment to Christ who conquered sin and death. Together with the Church worldwide, we pray:
God our Father,
The strength of all who put their trust in you,
Mercifully accept our prayers;
And because, in our weakness,
We can do nothing good without you,
Grant us the help of your grace,
That in keeping your commandments
We may please you, both in will and deed
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.