Ash Wednesday: I am dust

Candles fluttered softly, illuminating the sanctuary that was only dimly lit by artificial lighting. The elements of the Eucharist waited on the alter, along with two white porcelain bowls of ash.

All was quite when I walked in, but soon acoustic music softened the hushed air. I sat quietly, watching the pews slowly fill. Most faces I recognized. Several I did not — but that is typical for special services.

Soon we were called to worship, first with song and then with scripture reading.

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
(Joel 2:12-13 ESV)

Mourning. That is the heart of the Lenten season — mourning for our sin.

We were called forward, and one by one we walked to the front of the sanctuary, where we knelt while one of our leaders dipped his thumb in a bowl of ashes — an ancient symbol of mourning — and drew a cross on our foreheads.

Later, we knelt as a congregation and corporately repented for our sins. Afterward, we broke bread and gave thanks to God, for His forgiveness.

According to the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary, the word Lent comes from the Middle English lente, which meant springtime. Today, it is identified with the season in the Christian calendar: “the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting.”

In the liturgical calendar, Lent comes after Advent/Christmas (celebrating Christ’s birth) and Epiphany (Christ’s life), and it is followed by Easter (celebrating the Resurrection) and Pentecost (the gift of the Holy Spirit).

Last Sunday, one of our elders, Dr. Eric Bolger, taught a sermon on preparing our hearts for Lent. I like the way he defined the season.

Lent is the season of the Christian year during which we take time to recognize our sin and to celebrate God’s all sufficient provision in Christ.

During Lent, we mourn for our sin, as well as for the sin of humanity. We fast, and we grieve. But as Christians, there is joy in our mourning, as we look forward to the hope of the Resurrection. Indeed I am dust, and to dust I will return, but that is not the end.

As a part of my Lenten discipline, I’m going to update my blog every day with something God is showing me through this year’s observance.

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