Why Lent? Have you ever had to prepare for a big trip? You faced the truth about where you were going and what needed to happen to make the trip. You made your plans, packed your bags, got ready, etc. You went through a â€œSeasonâ€ of â€œpreparingâ€ for what you were about to experience.
“Lent” is like that. Lent isnâ€™t that junk in your pocket of your jeans â€“ or the fuzz you pick out of your belly button after wearing a new shirt. Lent is the season of the churchâ€™s celebration of 40 days before Easter (FYI: â€œLentâ€ comes from an old word for â€œspringâ€). It’s a time of gracious preparation and truth-telling. It starts with today, called “ASH WEDNESDAY,” and rolls on the next 6 weeks.
So what is this ancient and dusty tradition for? Iâ€™ve come to think of it as a wake up call. Most of us wake up to some kind of an alarm (whether you pop up to need 5 snoozes), and lent rings two notes of alarm to us â€“ saying â€œget up! Life is here! Wake up and move on out!â€
- We remember our incredible need for God – the reason that Jesus came to rescue us. That you and I are made in Godâ€™s image, but our sin has harmed every relationship we know: with self, others, our world, and â€“ especially â€“ with God. I need God. You need God. We each need him. To live apart from God is to be dying in the way you live.
- And here’s the second incredible truth â€“ in our incredible need, we have an incredible Savior â€“ Jesus Christ. You and I cannot save ourselves. The good news is our God has revealed himself to be our Savior in Jesus Christ. He offers forgiveness of your sin through his own death on the cross, and new life through his own resurrection from the grave. He reigns now as Lord of all lords. We need forgiveness. We need life. Thank God that both of those are freely offered to us in Jesus Christ.
Hereâ€™s the thing about Jesus â€“ he stood in your shoes. He lived your life. He was obedient to God in every way and yet he took on himself all your sin and suffered for it, was judged for it, died for it, and put it all right so that you â€“ by faith â€“ can stand in his shoes and hear his words: YOU ARE FORGIVEN. You are my beloved.
Hear that again. YOU ARE FORGIVEN. Jesus has made things right with you and God and restored you to the place of love, fellowship, and following him in this world.
So this Lent, donâ€™t think you are going all super-spiritual and finally getting yourself in shape. You canâ€™t make it right. You donâ€™t HAVE TO make it right. You are â€“ we are â€“ actually admitting the reverse: we canâ€™t. But by Godâ€™s grace, Jesus has done it, did it for you, and calls you back to share in his perfect response to the Father.
Tonight we gather together and start that journey by having a time of worship. At the end, we all come forward (if you choose) to face the truth – you say â€œI am a sinnerâ€ and we remind you that â€œwe have a great Savior: in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.â€ And you get a mark – on your forehead, or on your hand – of ashes.
Why ashes? It’s an ancient tradition that when you hurt, or when you were full of sorrow, or when you were ashamed of your actions, or when you wanted show that youâ€™d reversed your wrong course and were heading down the right road â€“ you put dust on yourself. Maybe on your head, shoulders, or hands.
In the church today, we mark you with ashes as a reminder that you came from dust and you are going back to dust. A reminder that your life here is temporary. A reminder that none of us is Lord of our own lives: each of us will face death and be accountable to God. We mark each other with ashes tonight to remember that first alarm bell (we are sinners).
But we mark you with ashes in the sign of the cross because itâ€™s in the cross of Jesus Christ that we meet an incredible savior who cleanses us from our sin, gives us new life by his Spirit, and leads us in the way of love for God and love for others.
So tonight – we invite you to wake up and walk with us on that journey. Pack your bags, make some preparations. There is life to do this season as we wake up to the call of God on our lives.
Find an Ash Wednesday service tonight. If you are local to Chattanooga, join us in the sanctuary at Signal Mountain Pres at 6:30pm. May your own heart sense the call of Christ to leave life as you know it and follow him in the fire of love with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.