Devotional: March 2, 2022
I, Daniel, was meditating on the Scriptures that gave, according to the Word of God to the prophet Jeremiah, the number of years that Jerusalem had to lie in ruins, namely, seventy. I turned to the Master God, asking for an answer—praying earnestly, fasting from meals, wearing rough penitential burlap, and kneeling in the ashes. I poured out my heart, baring my soul to God, my God:
“‘O Master, great and august God. You never waver in your covenant commitment, never give up on those who love you and do what you say. Yet we have sinned in every way imaginable. We’ve done evil things, rebelled, dodged and taken detours around your clearly marked paths.”’
Daniel 9: 2-5 The Message
Today is Ash Wednesday. As the name implies, the Christian observance of the day involves ashes. Here, we see one of the uses for ashes in the scriptures: to express repentance for sin.
The prophet Daniel was living in a foreign land. Word reached him about how long Jerusalem, his city, would have to lie in ruins: seventy years! Daniel realized that this punishment was the result of the sin of his people.
Therefore, he is grieving over the seven decades of ruin which will come upon the capital city. He is sorrowful because of the sin which has necessitated this harsh sentence. Therefore, he grieves…in ashes.
Ashes were also used in the Old Testament as a sign of grief. When a loved one passed away, people would often put on sackcloth (rough, uncomfortable clothes), and then roll in, or dust themselves with ashes. The gray ashes were symbolic of what sin does to us: it takes away life. It makes everything gray. The polar opposite of the fresh green life of spring is the grays and blacks of ashes. They remind us of death.
Where do the ashes come from that we use on Ash Wednesday? When Christ entered Jerusalem before his crucifixion, the palms upon which he walked were blessed. Rather than throwing away the palms we use on Palm Sunday, we keep them, and burn them down to ashes. These are the ashes we use today for our Ash Wednesday worship service. They symbolize new life which is offered to us through Christ’s blessings. Why do we call today “Ash Wednesday?” Why do we make use of the symbolism of the cross in ashes on our forehead? It is a reminder to us of the frailty of life. The ashes also prompt us to grieve the results of our past sin, while repenting and turning to God to plot a new way forward.
While it may seem like ashes are bland, lifeless, and negative, remember another use for ashes: fertilizer. One ancient way of fertilizing the ground, preparing it to grow crops, was to burn all of the existing vegetation. This practice was even called, “slash and burn” by those who practiced this technique. While lifeless in themselves, the ashes contain nutrients. These important nutrients enrich the soil, making it fertile and ready to grow new crops.
The hope of Christians is that by considering ashes, and practicing repentance for our sin, spiritual groundwork is being laid for new life in Christ. It is only when we turn away from sin that we have the opportunity for a closer, richer walk with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is why ashes are often put upon foreheads in the shape of the cross: as a sign promising Christ’s resurrection, and our own through Him! There truly is life beyond death…
May today, Ash Wednesday, be the beginning of your pilgrimage with the Lord for the next 40 days. Repent of your sin. Focus on what Christ did for us through His life, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Let us all prepare our hearts and minds for this Lenten journey with our Lord…
Today, we prepare ourselves for the long journey to Holy Week and Easter. As I prepare for this trip, may I sort through and leave behind my sins. I confess and repent of all of every single one of them, asking you to forgive me. I choose to turn away from the wide way which leads to death. Instead, help me to choose the narrow way which leads to life with You. During these next six weeks, help me to rise from the ashes with You. I pray this prayer in the name of Your Son, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.