Ash Wednesday Devotional
Well, it’s Ash Wednesday - the first day of Lent, a season that is much celebrated and much often the cause for great confusion both within the church and outside. In some circles, it means fish on Friday and giving up chocolate for 5-6 weeks. For those that participate within the Liturgical calendar (an exploration of the life of Christ through specific cycles and times of the year) Lent can be either a time of tedious focus upon sin, or it can be a time when a wealth of exploration of life can occur. I have one friend, outside the Methodist Church, who routinely criticizes my observance of Lent saying that I should “live a life of repentance all year long.”
Who knows, maybe the criticism is right? Certainly, I sin all year long not just at lent - why should I only focus on repentance during one 40-day period of time? I certainly see the point, but I think to focus on Lent only as a time of repentance is to miss what the season really can offer. For me, this season is so much more than a period of groveling for how low and debased I am as a sinner. Instead, I find this season to be much more about renewal and preparation than repentance. It’s a time to sweep away the cobwebs - to let the distractions of life be purposely removed. It involves an introspective gaze toward the actions, emotions and thoughts I have that keep me from experiencing Christ-likeness (also known as repentance), but that doesn’t mean I should walk around depressed for 40 days.
When I look at repentance in scripture, I see a very different reaction than groveling and depression. Sure, there is an awareness of the sin and the barrier that it creates between me and Godhead, but the awareness is there to lead me to restoration. For the longest time, I missed this important piece of repentance. I would repent of something and then continue to feel bad about what I had done, or how I had let God and others down. I would wallow in how unworthy I was, or how fallen my state truly was. The problem with that thinking is that it’s not at all how Jesus saw repentance!
Jesus told the woman caught in adultery that she wasn’t condemned. Instead of shunning the tax collectors, Jesus ate with them and celebrated their turning. The sick he healed, the possessed he freed, the children he blessed and the widows he embraced. Jesus even believed that heaven rejoiced when sinners repented. And his largest words of criticism were for the religious folks who paraded their piety. Jesus rejoiced when the lost were found - he threw parties for those who found redemption. Repentance leads to renewal.
I love this passage from Mark as a beginning text for Lent. Mark has a very action oriented story to tell. The whole gospel is energized with words like “and immediately he went.” For Mark though, you can’t start telling the story about Jesus and this passion plan He seems to have for redeeming humanity without first getting prepared. In Marks eyes, you need a little John first - a guy who preached about getting ready, about repenting, and about waking up to see what was coming. Notice his repentance message was about being aware of sin, but it was more about cleaning the house so that the King could come and bring new life.
That’s what Lent is an d it’s what Ash Wednesday offers us - a time to begin our preparations. This is a season of renewal and a time to sit still and reflect. What is clogging up your life - your mind, body, soul - from truly be prepared to see Jesus? What is distracting you and causing life to become blurry and out of focus? What could you strip away so that you could experience renewal this Lenten season?
- Jim Nichols