Today is Ash Wednesday, which falls forty days (excluding Sundays) before Easter Sunday. Traditionally, this begins the season called Lent, an intentional time of prayer, fasting, repentance, contemplation, and meditation on Jesus’s death and resurrection. A broad majority of Christians begin that season today.
You may notice some folks with smudges on their foreheads; those are ashes that have been applied to believers’ foreheads as a sign of their repentance and humility before God. I remember seeing a college student of mine some years ago come into math class with ashes in the shape of a cross on her forehead. She was always kind and respectful in class, but her demeanor seemed even more sincere and thoughtful on that day.
The Church of God does not always make a big deal of Ash Wednesday. In fact, this will be the second year that our movement engages in a new program called “Focus 40,” which begins next Wednesday and counts forty days (including Sundays) through Easter Sunday. You will hear more about Focus 40 very soon!
Why is Ash Wednesday so important? What’s the big deal about ashes on the forehead, anyway? The whole practice has to do with a correct understanding of ourselves. All of us have sinned, and we all fall short of God’s glory. The death and resurrection of Jesus is an event to celebrate, to be sure, but it also encourages us to be mindful of ourselves as sinful people who have been redeemed at great cost.
Just after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, God sent them out of the garden and explained the curses that would follow them for the rest of their lives. In Adam’s curse, God states that the man will have to toil and labor as he works the ground for food. This is because Adam was taken from the ground; “for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19 NIV).
Friends, remember that our need to work hard in this world is a result of our sinfulness before God. Our sins have real consequences that affect our lives. And our sins had real consequences for Jesus, as well, who went to the cross on our behalf so that our sins might be forgiven and that we might live holy, God-pleasing lives.
Perhaps it would be good for us to wear ashes on our foreheads all the time, if that would help us remember our position before God. Be blessed in this season of preparation for Easter.