Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is that season in the church year that emphasizes repentance and contrition for our sins. It is also a season of self denial, fasting or taking on a new devotional practice or discipline as a way to encourage a deeper communion with Christ. Such practices remind us of the depth of Jesus’ self denial and Christ’s love for God and us. Such love is what compelled Jesus to give his life as “ransom for our sins” (Hebrews 9:15).
Ash Wednesday gets its name from the tradition of putting ashes on the forehead or hand of a person as a sign of repentance and death. Typically, words such as “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent and believe the gospel.”, are said as the ashes are being smeared on one’s skin.
So Lent begins with death. As Covenant Pastor Mark Pattie writes in our devotional (Come Back to Jesus: A Lenten Devotional by the Readers and Authors of The Pietist Option), this vivid symbol of death, which comes to us all, is a reminder that we are not God. We are not invulnerable, we are not independent, we are not self sufficient, we are not in control.
To begin with death is a stark reminder and a needed safeguard against all the false gods that tempt us to think and act as if we are invulnerable, as if we are independent, as if we are self sufficient, as if we are in control. To begin with death is to turn to God.
The place to begin is at the end. The way to eternal life with God always journeys along the road of rejecting false gods and false narratives and continually turning and returning to the risen Christ. For without death, without repentance, there can be no resurrection.