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Observe Ash Wednesday

 

            Due to the cold weather, we will not be together this Ash Wednesday evening.  What does it matter?  The observation of Ash Wednesday is not a ceremony to be celebrated only within the confines of a church sanctuary.  The observation of Ash Wednesday should be a matter of the heart, a time of confession and repentance, a sort of spring cleaning of the soul.

            Not all Christian denominations observe Ash Wednesday, because not all Christian denominations observe Lent.  Regardless of denomination, the observation of Lent should be a personal decision by the individual Christian because the observation of Lent is a personal commitment.  I choose to observe Lent, and I support my decision from Matthew 9:15.  “And Jesus said unto them, ‘Can the children of the bridegroom mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.’”

            Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and cannot be separated from the observation of Lent.  To attend an Ash Wednesday service, receive the ashes, and then go home, wash your face, and go about your regular routine is to make a mockery of the service.  The ashes are a very old symbol of repentance.  It reoccurs frequently throughout the Old Testament.

            Let the ashes be to us a symbol of repentance, but only an outward symbol of the confession and repentance within our hearts.  The Lord does not care about what is on our foreheads; the Lord sees our hearts.  Do you miss the imposition of the ashes?  Then prepare the ashes and impose them upon yourself.  There is no magic in them.  They are ashes, but they are only ashes.  Ashes from your fireplace will do as well.  Ashes from the brush you burned last spring will do as well.  Mix them with a few drops of olive oil.  There is no magic in the oil.  Common salad oil will do.  As you impose the ashes on your forehead, impose the burden on your heart.

            After you have received the ashes, read these verses from the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 6, verses 1 through 6, and then verses 16 through 21. These are the words of our Lord.

 

            “Beware of practicing your piety before others to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

            “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 

            “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

            “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 

            Having read these verses, meditate upon them.  What do they mean to you?  What should they mean to you?  When the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart, pray this prayer:  [Psalm 51:1-4a, 10-12.

 

            Have mercy on me, O God,

                 according to your steadfast love;

            according to your abundant mercy,

                 blot out my transgressions.

            Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

                 and cleanse me from my sin.

            For I know my transgressions,

                 and my sin is ever before me.

            Against you, you alone, have I sinned,

                 and done what is evil in your sight.

             Create in me a new heart, O God,

                 and put a new and right spirit within me.

            Do not cast me away from your presence,

                 and do not take your holy spirit from me.

            Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

                 and sustain in me a willing spirit.

           

            Pray this prayer in the name of Jesus the Christ of God, our Lord and our Master.  Pray this prayer every day from now until Easter Sunday.  Take that upon yourself as a Lenten discipline.  Do not merely recite it; pray it from your heart.

            May God bless and keep each and every one of you, my precious brothers and sisters in Christ.

            Your fellow servant, Joe Charles

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