Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. As a kid, I remember being fascinated by all the people walking around with black crosses on their foreheads. I had no idea what it stood for or why someone would wear one. I just knew it meant that I better hurry up and choose something to give up for Lent. I wasn’t even sure why I was supposed to fast…it was just what Christians did before Easter.
I went to my first Ash Wednesday worship service when I was in high school and the solemnness of the whole thing gave me a new perspective. Then, while in seminary, I had the opportunity to administer the ashes while working at a children’s hospital. I got chills every time I put my thumb in the ash, placed it on the forehead of an ill child and made the symbol of a cross. I’d say, “From dust you have come and to dust you will return. Repent and believe the Good News, God is making you whole.” By the end of the day, I was emotionally and spiritually fatigued.
Ash Wednesday serves two purposes. It reminds us of our own frailty, mortality and sinfulness. It highlights that we are broken and completely dependent on God’s grace. And, it signifies the beginning of the Lenten season, where we are reminded of the forty days that Jesus spent fasting and being tempted in the desert before his ministry began. We’re invited to live into the reality that God alone sustains and restores us, from the moment we’re born until our last breath.
Our temptation is to take the same approach to Lent that much of our society does with Advent before Christmas. Instead of a being an intentional season of reflection, we see it as a time to prepare for the Easter party. Instead of being something that is significant in our walk with Christ, fasting from something like chocolate, meat or television becomes routine and almost a childish game (that is, if we even participate).
My hope for our community during this Lenten season is that it would be a time that brings us to our knees — that we, as a church, would recognize that we are totally lost without Christ and that we’d come to a deep understanding of His sacrifice. If you choose to fast, I’d hope that every time you are reminded or tempted by that particular thing, you’d spend time in prayer. Even if you aren’t giving something up, I’d love for each of us to commit to listening to God in prayer EVERY DAY. May we be restored and renewed as we journey through this season together.
– Pastor Dave