Ash Wednesday is a Christian commemoration, although not a traditional “church holiday”.
For at least 1 300 years Christians gather on this otherwise unremarkable Wednesday, to remember that:
· They are mortal and therefore have to contemplate eternity.
· If we are Christians, we also remember that we have “died for sin”, meaning that we died with Christ in order to become new people that follow Jesus and seek God’s will.
· And when we ponder all of this, we know that we are guilty of allowing the old, disobedient person to surface much too often and therefore we wish to repent, longing for forgiveness.
It all started with a tradition that developed during the 2nd century to baptize new converts to Christianity on Easter Sunday.
Christians then, as we should still do, took Paul’s teaching very seriously, that a new “me” is “resurrected” when through baptism I am ordained into Christ’s priesthood, to become a praying, serving child of God, sacrificing my whole life to his service.
Converts during those early years of Christianity were prepared for the new life in Christ for 40 days (excluding Sunday’s). During this time spiritual discipline was, with teaching, an important ingredient of this preparation that started on a Wednesday. It was most probably inspired by Jesus’ fasting for 40 days in the desert, preparing for his earthly ministry.
These 40 days became known as “Lent”. And so our early Christian fathers thought that if we on Easter Sunday will celebrate that we rose with Christ into a new life, we should also be reminded that the old sinful “me” has died with Christ. Remembering all of this culminates on Good Friday, when we remember that Jesus died – and even Still Saturday, that Jesus was dead, in the tomb.
But it starts on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the season to remember Christ’s suffering and death, contemplating our death, our sins, our need to repent and our expectation to be raised to a new resurrection life in Jesus our Saviour!
On Ash Wednesday we remember that the old, lost, impure and ungodly person has died. And in faith, through prayer, fasting, contemplation and learning, seek the new life in Christ more fervently and focused than before. Ash Wednesday prepares us for a time of humble repentance for our own sins, and for that of our congregation, our leaders, our denomination, our country... As such it becomes a time of reconciliation – with God, our neighbour, our family, friends, children... It is a time to make peace with God, other people, ourselves and our environment. We receive this peace in Christ Jesus, who suffered and died to set us free.
It is a season to listen carefully to what God says to us about our lives and to look carefully to the needs of those to whom we should be a neighbour!
2 Cor 7:10: Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
Ash Wednesday starts the remembrance and repentance of Lent on the right foot: we realise how seriously we need the Son of God, yes, how hungry and thirsty we are for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer!
O SACRED HEAD... (Paul Gerhardt, 1607 – 1676.)
O sacred head, sore wounded, defiled and put to scorn;
O kingly head, surrounded, with mocking crown of thorn:
What sorrow ruins your grandeur? Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendour, the hosts of heaven adore!
In thy most bitter passion my heart to share does cry,
With thee for my salvation upon a cross to die.
Oh, keep my heart thus moved to stand thy cross beneath,
To mourn thee, well beloved, yet thank thee for thy death.
What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,
For this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever! And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love for thee!