Someone today wished me a “happy Ash Wednesday.” I’ve never thought of it as that kind of a holiday, nor really ever as a holiday at all, not in the conventional lights-on-trees, fireworks, turkey, heart-shaped-card kind of way. But it is a holiday in the truest sense of the word, a holy day, a time for us to take a moment between the excitement of Christmas and Epiphany and the reflective season of Lent to ponder who and whose we are, and what traditions we are anchored in, and what stories shape our souls.
Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, the start of the long hard story that led to the cross, a journey of faith we take to help us remember the triumph of the Resurrection. The sign of the day is stark and raw: a cross on our foreheads, marked in ashes, which signify mourning and repentance. On this day, more than most, Christians are visibly set apart by this sign on our heads: we remember that resurrection came at a cost, the Cross, and that we are indelibly marked by Jesus’ sacrifice.
This season of Lent can be for us a season of opportunity: the chance to look at our lives in humility, to change those habits or behaviors that separate us from God and from God’s people, and to renew our own faith in the Resurrection. Tonight we will display the mark on our heads that is always on our spirit and remember that Christ calls us not only to live rightly ourselves, but calls us out of ourselves to know, to love, and to serve others in Christ’s name, as one of Christ’s people. The cross we wear defines us as a people who know suffering and redemption, who have been offered grace without measure, and who know that the love of God is ours not to hoard, but to share.
Tonight as we sing, pray, listen, and receive our mark, let us do so with reverence, with a repentant spirit that seeks to live rightly and righteously, and with no small sense of awe at the gift of God’s grace that we share now and always.