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Why these ashes?

by: Rev. Dr. Emmette Weir - Published Monday, April 10, 2017

“And Abraham answered and said, “Behold now I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes.” Genesis 18:27

“Woe to You, Chorazin! Wow to You, Bethsaida for if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”  

~ Matthew 11:21, NRSV

 

We are now observing Lent, one of the greatest holy seasons of the Christian calendar. For Lent the ANGLO SAXAN word for “spring” refers to the “forty days and forty nights,” beginning of deep spiritual significance leading up to the celebration of The Feast of The Resurrection, also known as “Easter.” It begins on Ash Wednesday.

 

Ash Wednesday, then, as the beginning of Lent is a very holy day. In some countries it is immediately preceded by SHROVE TUESDAY, when the celebration of CARNIVAL climaxes in the Crowning of the Carnival Queen in the midst of much revelry. In Jamaica it is observed as a public holiday. In Freeport, Grand Bahama deacon Jeff Hollingsworth usually leads at several services in various locations, in the “ashing” of faithful Christians. At the heart of this sacred ceremony the priest or Minister of the Gospel places ASHES, “The sign of the cross,” on the forehead of the believer as he or she solemnly repeats: “Dust thou art and to dust shalt though return.”  Virtually all persons testify that it is a refreshing and uplifting spiritual experience! The question may be asked, “Why do the clergy use ashes in this sacred act? “Why these ashes in this day and age?”  Well, there are very good reasons why this is  done.

 

You see ashes clearly indicate repentance. In ancient times, when people did what was wrong or evil, “they repented in sackcloth and ashes.”  Indeed, whether a person has sinned by idolatry or violation of the rights of others, or felt that they were violated and had been victimized they would repent using ashes.

 

In ancient times, when people sinned in any way, and they were sorry for what they had done, they would repent dressed in sackcloth and with ashes on their head. ASHES, then, were symbolic of repentance. David, after committing the double sin of adultery and social injustice, Tamar, after being raped by her own half brother Am on (Psalm 51; II Samuel 13:19) all repented in sackcloth and ashes. In a similar vein, Jesus, warned that had the people of Tyre and Sidon received the Word of the Gospel they would have reprinted.

 

This, the use of ashes is relevant in all ages. For, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. In the light of the high rate of crime and violence we are witnessing “in the world today,” breakdown in home and family life and with so many doing what is wrong in the sight of God, there is a great need for repentance! Moreover, all of us, from time to time commit sins of which we may not be aware. This is called unwitting sin. Like when you make a careless remark which may “hurt someone's feelings,” or a discouraging word, or simply are careless in how you treat others. All these are sinful acts. We are called upon during Lent to reflect upon our sins and to repent, to be sorry for what we have done, to confess our sins to God and pray for His forgiveness. When you receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, you are participating in an act of repentance.

 

Closely related to repentance is humility. Indeed, it requires a measure of humility in order to be truly penitent Again in ancient times, the wearing of “sackcloth,” the cheapest of all fabrics, worn normally only by “the poorest of the poor” required humility on the part of the believer. Wearing sackcloth was a sign of mourning and sorrow and spiritually speaking indicated being humble before God (SEE Micah 6:8).

 

Finally, and most significantly, ashes remind us of our mortality, that as mere mortals, no matter how strong and healthy we may feel, the day will come when we shall depart this life, and our bodies will return to the earth. Note that in Genesis it is recorded that God created human kind out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 21-7). Thus, Father Abraham in his great prayer of intercession for the preservation of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, confessed before God that he was merely, “dust and ashes.” John the Baptist and Jesus both began their ministry by a clarion call to people to repent.

 

During Lent we begin Lent, then by being called to repent for our sins, by being called to be humble and by being reminded of our mortality. Let us, then, throughout this holy season constantly reflect upon our sinfulness and shortcomings and the need for repentance. Let us, realizing our sinful condition, not become filled with pride but filled with humility. Moreover, let us bear in mind that being mortal we shall all die and therefore should live day by day, being just in all our actions, showing mercy to others. Most of all, let us reflect upon our sinfulness and shortcomings and, therefore, our constant, yet daily need for repentance! Let us, realizing our sinful condition not become filled with pride, but filled with humility! Let us consequently, bear in mind that being mortal we shall die and therefore should live day by day being just in all our dealings, merciful in all our relationships, and most of all always be humble before the Lord (Micah 6:8). Let us daily remember that:

 

“Only on life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last!!!”

 

PRAYER:ALMIGHTY GOD, WHO ALONE CAN BRING ORDER TO THE UNRULY WILLS AND AFFLICTIONS OF SINFUL PEOPLE, GIVE US GRACE SO TO LOVE WHAT YOU COMMAND, AND DESIRE WHAT YOU PROMISE, THAT IN ALL THE MANY AND VARIOUS CHANGES IN THIS WORLD, OUR HEARTS MAY SURELY BE FIXED, WHERE TRUE JOYS ARE TO BE FOUND, THROUGH JESUS.   AMEN

 

Published  Monday, April 10, 2017 

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