The Promise of Ash Wednesday

The Promise of Ash Wednesday

by Jennifer Collins

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation before Easter, and Easter is the great celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. Although they have a somber tone, Ash Wednesday and Lent are focused on our hope in Jesus.  At Gloria Dei, we observe Ash Wednesday by gathering for an evening service.  The service is solemn, but follows a familiar pattern: confession and absolution; hymns and prayer; readings and responses drawn from God’s Word; Sacrament of the Altar, Christ’s Body and Blood.

Unique to Ash Wednesday is the Imposition of Ashes. This rite is available at the very beginning of the service and it looks like this: those who want to participate come forward and kneel or stand at the rail where normally we receive the Sacrament of the Altar. Pastor goes from person to person, saying “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” as he dips his thumb into the container of ash and draws a smudgy cross on their forehead. These words of Genesis 3:19 are a reminder of our mortality and weakness.

The ashes are made by burning the palm leaves from last year’s Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday, or Sunday of the Passion, is the Sunday before Easter Sunday. We wave palm leaves and carry them into the sanctuary, a little like the crowds who welcomed Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem. 

“And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matt 21:9)

Hosanna is a Hebrew word, meaning literally “Save [us], we beseech Thee!”

The hope of that crowd was to be saved from the occupying enemy, not realizing Jesus was THE Savior, THE Prince of Peace, THE one who was to save His people from their sins.

We also need a savior from our sins. Thanks be to God that in His great love for the world—for me and for you—He has provided a savior: Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

The ash cross on our forehead is a Hosanna made visible and personal: “I am Yours, save me!” (Psalm 119:94), both a plea and a response of trust in our Savior. It proclaims that we belong to Him, and are trusting only in the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Redeemed and forgiven, we are strengthened to love and serve those around us.

This season of Lent, let us cling to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful to save us!