Dan at Necessary Roughness has a post talking about Ash Wednesday and our attitudes towards this season.
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. â€” Genesis 3:19
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. My church will be imposing ashes this evening.
Lent comes with significant changes in the rituals of some: forgoing meat on Fridays, imposition, not singing Alleluia in the liturgy or the hymns during worship.
The temptation exists that such behaviors should be enforced upon Christians for their own good. That would be the easy way to encourage such behaviors, but that’s the way of the curse. It’s like telling kids that they have to eat their meal, not because doing so will help them stay alert or grow properly, but because you told them to eat.
Nor should any practices be allowed to imply that one is holier than another. The point of many of our rituals is to remind us that we are in fact not holier or better than our neighbors. Unless a pastor can paint a cross on a forehead with the skill of a tattoo artist, ashes do not make anyone more attractive.
The Church offers practices not to enforce its authority but to tie people back to the Word and to their God. Anyone can burn a palm branch and mark their foreheads, but we also quote the latter half of Genesis 3:19: “Remember, O man, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Anyone can choose to eat less â€” I, too â€” but we should remember the Word in doing so: “The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Ps. 145:15-16, as found in Luther’s Small Catechism). God has chosen to communicate to us through his word, and having His word in what we believe and think draws us closer to Him.
Thus our rituals move from having an appearance of “have to” to a motivation of “get to.” It is good that we acknowledge our dependence on God in this world where we do not control very much ourselves. We trust in God not only for our food but for our salvation. He provides all these things, both through our neighbor and through Christ crucified and resurrected.
Fast, hold back the alleluias, mark your foreheads, confess your sinfulness in humble piety and receive absolution, et cetera, all in Christian freedom paid for by the Word made flesh. Lent is a gift.
Read more from Dan at http://necessaryRoughness.org.