A largely Catholic practice, dies cinerum is associated most directly with the “procession of penitence.” While kicking off what is traditionally referred to as Lent — the 40 Days of preparation preceding Easter — Ash Wednesday is best described as a day of brokenness and repentance.
From Genesis to the Gospels, and a few references in between, ashes are used along with the donning of some horribly uncomfortable sackcloth to identify one who is either mourning or penitent.
Those that first designed Lent as we know it were quite wise. There is no better place to begin…certainly no other place to begin…to deepen ones relationship with a God, than in humble brokenness before God. His mercies are new each morning and in Jesus we find forgiveness and restoration. It is good to begin with ashes.
At Vista, we are challenging ourselves to take steps of greater and more consistent devotion to God these next 40 Days. This is a good thing, but for many of us it can be an anxiety provoking thing…for good reason…because we know ourselves! We can put on a good show at times, but we can rarely fool ourselves. When we look in the mirror we see the truth…we carry around guilt, shame, and unrepentant sin. That being true, the energetic commitment to draw closer to God can be scary. But it needn’t be. This is where the ashes come in…this is where Jesus comes in.
Among other things, Jesus is a new beginning. The undeniable proof of God’s mercy, Jesus’ work on the cross and from the grave provides the pathway to restoration. In Jesus, we are forgiven and restored to right standing before God. A beautiful thing, we stand not condemned; we stand without guilt or shame or the punishment due our sin. We are free to worship, enjoy, pursue and love our Creator God. And by his Spirit we can grow in Christ.
So, before you begin any effort to draw near to God through new or renewed disciplines, take the ashes…real or symbolic. Take the ashes, bow the head and the knee of penitence and receive the forgiveness your soul needs. And then, go boldly to the throne of God. He loves you.