I’ve said before that while I find this a very moving service I have had pause to question what it’s purpose is, in the light of Easter. Surely the sacrifice of Jesus has paid our debt. It has given us a costly bought but free-at-point-of-service grace. Surely the point of Easter to which we are journeying is that we can be forgiven freely and repeatedly and that a long period of Old Testament style penitence is not required.
But Ash Wednesday is about repentance and vulnerability. It has often been said that repentance is not just saying sorry and carrying on. But that it is about turning around, turning away from the sins that so easily ensnare us. Especially those repetitive sins that have become so engrained we think they are part of our character. Not just saying sorry, but being purposeful in our desire and actions to make the changes that will make these flaws, these habits a thing of the past.
And I believe that Ash Wednesday is also about vulnerability. As we leave here today we will bare the mark of our faith. We will be wearing a cross of ash upon our heads. A cross that is a statement about our desire to see change in our lives. It makes us vulnerable to those who will know what it means. But the act of standing before God and making ourselves humble in his sight makes us vulnerable too. Done with the right heart and not as a ritual the receipt of these ashes is a submission of our lives to God again.
A statement of our willingness to relinquish control. To submit to God.
Perhaps to the world that might seem defeatist or simply passing the buck of our actions. But actually as Jesus showed us on the cross there is incredible power in the humility and, yes, the humiliation of vulnerability.
So let us receive these ashes, a mark of our repentance, our penitence and our vulnerability in and for and to the glory of our God.