Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. We are excited to explore this season together for the first time this year as a church. In the next few weeks we will welcome some new voices from our church body to share their reflections during this Lenten season.
For much of my life, I've always put the invisible parts of faith first: theological doctrines, understanding of grace and salvation, acceptance of Jesus as the savior, etc. But I gave very little attention to actions and the physical and tangible dimensions of faith. In fact, I stayed away from it.
If anyone ever prescribed a spiritual discipline to follow, I would easily slap a "LEGALISM!" sticker on the practice and declare, "This isn't in the Bible!"... and that's how I originally approached this season of Lent.
This is more work.
This is a system imposed on my freedom.
This is works-righteousness!
I imagined that those who enslave themselves to Lent-like constraints must be the saddest Christians in the world. But I had not experienced the power of those words that are pronounced upon believers at the start of the Lenten Season:
All are from the dust, and to dust all return.
—Ecclesiastes 3:20 (echoing Genesis 3:19b)
To return to the dust is an invitation to rest, not to work. To live into the words we love to sing in In Christ Alone:
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
We cease trying to "make it" for ourselves, and we put into practice a kind of surrender that recognizes that it is only on Christ that we stand. Every day we are trying to make ourselves; we want to shape our own lives and define our own success. Yet the invitation to return to dust is to allow Christ to shape us; to surrender our efforts and allow his perfect effort to conform us into his image.
The ashes we receive is not merely a smudge, but it is shaped into a cross, recognizing that only in our surrender to dust that we can be made in his image. As we enter into this season together, it is my hope that we will see how he is shaping us to be more like him.
Loving Father, give us rest as we enter into this Lenten season. Holy Spirit, help us lay down our burdens; free us from trying to be something apart from you. May we welcome you to form us again from the dust into the image of your Son as we follow him in his death that we may realize his glory. It is in his name we pray. Amen.