Why We Can Say, ‘Happy Ash Wednesday’

Lent carries the reminder of our shared humanity and the promise of a new life.

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Posted in , Feb 7, 2022

Happy Ash Wednesday

“Happy Ash Wednesday!” Sounds like an unlikely greeting. What’s so happy about this reminder of our own mortality, not to mention a reminder of the struggles Jesus went through, culminating in the Crucifixion?

But remember, without the Crucifixion there wouldn’t be the Resurrection. Without the sad fact and reality of death, we wouldn’t have the joyous message of eternal life with God.

Note to self: Don’t forget the good news that will come at the end of this Lenten season. It’s not all just trials. Soon enough we’ll be saying, “The Lord is risen, the Lord is risen indeed.” Whatever our suffering now, we, too, can celebrate that promise.

On Ash Wednesday in the morning, I will glimpse someone at the office or walking past me on the sidewalk with a smudge on their forehead. Before I remember what day it is, I’m ready to offer some Kleenex. “Here, if you want to wipe that off.”

No, in fact, it’s not meant to be wiped off. Those ashes, whether you’ve gone to church that morning or not, are a reminder of our shared humanity. In a way, they’re always there. As the old hymn goes, “Change and decay in all around I see…”

A verse that concludes with, “Oh, thou, who changest not, abide with me.” 

In the worship service the ashes are administered with the sacred words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The mark of the cross. A holy sign if there ever was one.

Lent has begun. For 40 days, plus Sundays, we honor that period that Jesus spent in the wilderness, facing one temptation after another. It was all part of what the Lord needed to do before beginning His ministry. Growing in strength and resilience.

For those of us in more recent times who have had to endure the various constrictions, closures and fears of the pandemic, we, too, have often had to ask ourselves: What’s most important in our lives? What do we treasure? What is our calling? How can we make sure we don’t feel abandoned?

In Lent we often practice fasting ourselves, just as the Lord did for those 40 days. I’ve tried different things, but you know what was the best? Giving up my cell phone.

No, no, I didn’t give it up altogether for Lent, but I gave myself breaks from it and its insistent calls on my life with texts and emails and news screaming out for me to pay attention. 

It served as a reminder that one of the greatest trials Jesus faced in those 40 days was being in the wilderness, away from His friends and family. Going for a couple hours without the phone is a sort of modern wilderness experience. A chance to honor the precious gift and calling of silence.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, whether you wear a cross of ashes on your forehead or not, we all wear the mark of our Saviour’s death. And carry the promise of new life. Happy Ash Wednesday.

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