On February 14, we will begin our celebration of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Lent is a period of 40 days where we especially attempt to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us in our Christian lives. We fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame. (Heb 12:1-2) Lent is not just about going without meat or candy or smoking for a period of time. It is a season when we train ourselves for a continual new Christian life of denying our sinful nature anything that would lead us away from Jesus, and anything that distracts us from loving God and our neighbor. (Mk 8:34; 1 Cor 9:24-27; Rom 6:1-14) Lent is a season of repentance as we anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and victory over sin, death, and the devil for us on Easter.
Ashes are a reminder for us that the wages of sin is death. After Adam and Eve fell into sin, God told them that they would return to the ground they came from. (Gen 3:19) Unless the Lord returns first, all of us will either be cremated or decay and return to dust and ashes. That is the price for our sinfulness and our sin. Ashes are also a symbol of sorrow for sin and humility before God. Job and Esther and the Old Testament Prophets, as well as Jesus, speak of ashes in this way. (Job 42:6; Est 4:1,3; Is 61:3; Jer 6:26; Ezek 27:30; Dan 9:3; Mt 11:21)
At Riverview this year, we will offer an opportunity for Christians to come and have ashes spread on their forehead or the back of their hand in the shape of a cross. We are incorporating this beneficial practice for several reasons: 1) It reminds us of the wages of our sin 2) It reminds us of the importance of sorrow over our sin 3) It reminds us that Christ suffered our punishment on the cross. By his suffering we are forgiven; by his death we have life. 4) It offers opportunities for us to share our faith with those who may ask about the ashes.
Since Jesus, by his death on the cross, has cancelled all regulations and laws about outward worship forms, receiving ashes will be completely optional. (Col 2:13-16) We ask that those who receive ashes and those who choose to refrain both do so to the glory of God and not pass judgment on the other. (Rom 14:3-8)
We will offer ashes before our 3:15 pm and 6:30 pm services on Ash Wednesday. We will also offer them briefly after the services for those who desire. Those wishing to participate can proceed up to the front of the sanctuary by way of the side aisles. Children are welcome to come up and receive ashes as well, according to the wishes of their parents. Those who want to receive ashes will be asked to line up as if to receive communion, standing in front of the bottom step. Participants may come up to receive ashes as a group with family or friends, or individually. If you wish to receive ashes on the back of your hand, simply hold out your hand. If you wish to receive ashes on your forehead, keep your hands at your side and look up at the minister. If you have long bangs, please keep them to the side with an appropriate hair accessory or your own hands. As the ashes are applied, the minister will say, “The wages of sin is death. Therefore we repent in dust and ashes.” Once everyone in the group has received ashes, the minister will dismiss the group with a blessing, “Jesus was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Depart in peace.” The group receiving ashes is then welcome to return to their seats by way of the center aisle. You may leave the ashes on as long as you like. They can be washed off with water and soap.