photo by: TAGS Celia Walker & Mia Kelley-Lanser
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
–Isaiah 58:5-6 NRSV
Many images come to mind about ashes and Ash Wednesday. When I was a child, the ashes were rubbed off my face, either because it itched, or because I needed to fix my make-up; I was not cognizant of why ashes were placed on my forehead. Only in the last dozen or so years has the service, and the placing of ashes, been a more meaningful start of Lent for me. Knowing what Lent is, what it leads to and what Easter brings, and the preparation as a disciple of Christ throughout Lent has been more meaningful for me lately.
Isaiah speaks of humbling oneself, lying in a sackcloth and ashes. The verse also speaks of fasting and loosening the bonds of injustice. Being Christian and serving God here during our earthly life is what Jesus modeled, but must we humble ourselves to the point of being in a sackcloth and lying in the ashes as Isaiah talks about?
This brings me back to ashes and my growth over my lifetime about Ash Wednesday and my preparation throughout Lent for God’s promise of everlasting life. I have learned that baptism, the water of life poured over our heads and being marked by the sign of the cross with oil is God’s first gift of grace. I have practiced repeatedly that sign of the cross at the font as I go to receive the bread of life during communion; as a reminder that I am a beloved child of God. God brought me into his community of faith during my baptism. Ashes, placed on my forehead on Ash Wednesday, yet again reminds me of the grace, given freely to me by God. Being God’s beloved child and receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday reminds me what is to come; each time I remember the sacrifices God made for me, and you, by forgiving every sin ever committed or to be committed.
So, with that reminder, and with that freely given grace, I choose to walk through Lent with that renewed knowledge of God’s promise. I will try every day to break the bonds of injustice that Isaiah talks about; by following Jesus’ example of serving others. I will be kind to my neighbor, offering alms to the poor or just being a good witness to the works of Jesus every day.
Let us pray. Lord, help us to remember that as beloved children of God, that ashes may seem like an ending, but it is rather a renewal of being disciples in Christ as Jesus taught us to be through his being human. Amen.