Lent is on the way, and it begins next week with Ash Wednesday—the day in the Church Year when the nave and sanctuary are draped in black, and we are, perhaps more so than any other day, drawn to penitent recognition that within the divine courtroom, God has a case against all of us in our Sin.
There are plenty of things people choose to avoid seeing and hearing. They do so for various reasons. We all know the reason people avoid the discussion on Sin. It hurts. It’s the one thing in this life that none of us can escape—not through ducking and covering, not through quick witted and convincing talk, not by all out avoidance. Sin finds us, and it does so easily. Why? Because it’s already in us. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We take the sin-nature with us wherever we go, and like a spiritual slime, we prove ourselves capable of leaving a trail of it behind.
Some might say that to try to avoid this reality is the depth of Sin’s reflection, but I’d say that to knowingly avoid it is the deeper point in Sin’s dark trench. If you know you need rescue, but are equally unwilling to admit it and seek after help, you are an accomplice to your own unfortunate demise.
God would not have it this way. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This is the deeper, lovelier dimension to what is one of the most somber events in the Church Year. On Ash Wednesday, the job of the preacher is to make sure that you know—unequivocally, unmistakably, unreservedly—that you are a sinner, and the wage for Sin is nothing less than eternal death. You will be staged for this truth by an ashen mark in the shape of a cross on your forehead while hearing the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). But then you will hear how in the deepest reaches of your forsakenness, by a cross, Jesus Christ reached down and took your place in the divine courtroom. He stepped forth from eternity and took the judgment into Himself in every single way, with all of its brute force, and He rescued you.
He would not have you lost, but found. He would not leave you dead, but alive. He would not see you punished for your crimes, but rather freed to be His child of grace in this world.
I encourage you to come to the Lord’s house on Ash Wednesday. If you have other plans, cancel them. This is more important. Participate in the ancient ceremony of the Imposition of Ashes. Gather with your church family to recall the common and worldwide dreadfulness of our fall into Sin, but do so prepared to receive the Good News of deliverance through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the sins of that same world. Be there to consume that same Good News by way of the Lord’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, a meal that actually delivers the forgiveness of sins as it reaches in all directions and ages, flowing unbound to you from the divine Son of God who hung on that cross.
Don’t avoid Ash Wednesday. In fact, if you don’t have a church home and you’re feeling the tug to find one, come to Our Savior in Hartland at either 8:10 a.m. or 7:00 p.m. on Ash Wednesday. Kneel beside us. Come forward and be marked with a gritty cross. Hear the preaching of the Gospel. Be moved to know the depth of the Lord’s efforts of love. Embrace it. I guarantee it will change you on the inside, and it will be well worth your while.