At its heart, our Lenten journey must be one of Spirit-wrought repentance. Here is the Lenten invitation: turn from sin fully confident of the Lord’s deliverance. The Lord had delivered his people in spectacular fashion. Israel had every reason to trust whole-heartedly in his promises, relying on their rock, the Christ. Yet so many served their own bodies, even seeking the favor of other false gods. Let Israel’s example serve as warning. Turn from temptation, leave sin behind, trust in the Lord’s faithfulness to forgive, bear abundant fruit, and follow the Way out of this world to eternal life.
Jeremiah was rejected because he did not tell the people what they wanted to hear. Though threatened with death, he was resolute in his mission and faithfully proclaimed the Word of the Lord. Paul contrasts the journey through life of those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and those who embrace it. Even though he was rejected by many, the Christ was resolute on his journey to redeem us. He would not be intimidated by Pharisaical lies or enemies of the cross. He would press on toward his goal to redeem humankind from the violence of sin, gathering the elect beneath his eternal wings. Notice the invitation to repentance and mercy by the Lord of free and faithful grace that follows Jeremiah’s wake-up call. But it was a call that fell on many deaf ears. Whether we like it or not, our Lord speaks to us, today. Yet, despite a call to repentance, our focus remains on the message of the cross. It is only in Jesus that we can find strength to be resolute on our journey to follow him.
Each of us battles with temptation every day, and the results are too obvious to mention. Christ was no stranger to temptation, either. He battled, yet was without sin...for us and for our eternal righteousness. This message of victory gives us confidence as we journey through the wilderness of sin in true repentance.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, the Christian’s 40-day journey with the Lord to the cross and tomb, preparing for the proclamation of Easter. The 40 days are reminiscent of several biblical events: Jesus’ 40-day fast at the beginning of his ministry, Moses’ stay on Mount Sinai at the giving of the Law, or Elijah’s fast on his way to the mountain of God.
Ash Wednesday begins the Christian’s Lenten journey with a reminder of our mortality and a call to repentance. The ancient practice of imposing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful gives Ash Wednesday its name. The imposition of ashes has never been an exclusively Roman Catholic practice, and today is observed widely by Christians of many traditions. The church father, Tertullian (c. a.d. 160–215), writes of the practice as a public expression of repentance and of our human frailty that stands in need of Christ. The ashes remind us forcefully of our need for redeeming grace as they recall the words from the rite for Christian burial: “…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…,” words that will very likely be spoken over us all.
Today, the Savior “preaches” to us his final sermon: Prepare for my passion. On the mount, Jesus appears to his disciples in glory as the Son of God. The Epiphany season is bookended by the voice of God the Father proclaiming Jesus his Son. Before he suffered as man’s substitute, Jesus gave his Church a glimpse of the glory that he set aside to be our Savior. See how much he loves us! The God of Mt. Sinai, the Majestic Glory, became a man to suffer and die for us, just as Moses and the Prophets had foretold. It is good that we are here.
Today we also bid “farewell” to alleluia. It is the custom that alleluia is not spoken or sung in the church from Ash Wednesday until Easter morn. It is omitted from the Verse of the Day, the hymns, and liturgical songs. We stifle our joy during the season of Lent as we prepare and observe the Passion of our Lord. But don’t worry; the church will shout it again on Easter morning as she rejoices at the entrance to the empty tomb.