I need to switch gears for a bit because we are embarking upon, in my humble opinion, the most important season in Christianity, which is Lent. As such, I would not be much of a servant of the Lord if I did not call attention to it.
Today is the proverbial “Fat Tuesday”. It is the day where Christians around the world will be committing the sin of gluttony. Not that all will, or that I will, but some certainly do, and mine is not to judge. Just sayin’ – it’s called Fat Tuesday for a reason! (please no wise cracks)
Fat Tuesday ushers in Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent (there will be a blog on Lent later). Many different Christian denominations share the tradition of taking ashes and smearing a cross on the forehead, typically administered by a priest, pastor and some cases laity. “Man you are but dust, and to dust you will return.”
I, personally, had never seen anyone with ashes on their forehead until I went away to college (I grew up in a very, very small town!).
When I finally did see some people with the smudge on their head, I had no idea what faith they were or what the smudge was about. I remember wondering who these people were and why they mysteriously appeared and then POOF! They were gone. I don’t remember when I realized that the people with the smudges were actually Christians. It hasn’t been that many years ago. I was shocked — Why don’t I know about ashes and why am I not doing that?
What’s up with the ashes?
The tradition of ashes is “sprinkled” all over the Old Testament. Although I am sure there are other reasons, the primary reason was that, when the prophets were about to get down to some serious holy business, there were almost always ashes involved. It is a way of humbling oneself before the Lord.
Look in your Bible index for the word ashes and you will find beautiful passages of holy people, humbling themselves before the Lord with ashes.
Here are just a few of my favorites:
The prophet Jeremiah: “O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes” (Jeremiah 6:26)
The prophet Daniel: “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3)
And who can forget the story of Jonah? (I often ponder if our times today are similar to the times of Jonah.) “When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.” (Jonah 3:6)
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the prophet Isaiah was not a big fan of the sackcloth and ashes, calling it ritual and not pleasing to the Lord.
What the ashes are not:
- A reason to “boast” in your holiness
- To be considered “ritual”
If you will be observing the use of ashes tomorrow, make sure that it is in your heart that the ashes are a sign of your humility before the Lord. He, who made it a point to be humble, seeks humility from us. And, with our ashes, we honor His request.
Let’s get down to some serious holy business!