UCCDM Lenten Devotional- What Are Ashes For?

This is the first entry in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2016 series. This devotional reflection comes from Dr. Kevin Pettit for Ash Wednesday. His bio cam be found on the Board of Directors page.

Joel 2:1-2, 12:17
1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2 a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
12 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13 rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly;
16 gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.
17 Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations.Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Even though we live in a very different context than the author of the book of Joel, his call for repentance still sounds loudly in today’s world. For, indeed, is not our world today at least partly filled with gloom, clouds, and thick darkness? The similarity of the present times of difficulty to those described in the book of Joel account for the resonance of these Biblical texts. So, too, do we sense the need to withdraw somehow, reflect on our lives, and struggle with our call in this world just as Jesus did during his extended time of isolation that we commemorate during Lent. A time of penitential preparation – a time of self-examination, prayer, fasting, and works of love – in preparation for our remembrance of the betrayal and cross of Jesus, as well as the resurrection of the living Christ, will profit our spirits. We hope that your Lenten journey might be aided by these Reflections and the consideration of their meaning and import in our lives today.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent which, in many churches, is commemorated by anointing one’s forehead with ashes as a reminder of one’s mortality. The crude and dark mess of these ashes – a form of matter similar to the eventual form that our bodies take after we die – is a fitting remembrance of disorder in our lives. But are not such scars of imperfection the very marks of our humanity?

While everyone’s particular set of challenges is unique – sometimes being as apparent as a missing limb and at other times being as hidden as diabetes – we each share more or less common challenges of body, mind, and spirit much like the ashes marking our foreheads at the beginning of Lent. However, even after washing ourselves clean of these ashes, we all need to learn to live productively with the imperfections that mark us as children of God.

To do this, we can set aside some time daily during this time of Lent to study and reflect upon the Bible or other sacred texts, reflect on our needs and struggles, our intentions and our actions, and our effect on family, friends, and all others. As we are called to embody Christ, we must take the time to consider how we might best promote the construction of the city of God. Such meditative times can serve to prepare our spirits for the work ahead.

Let us begin on this Lenten effort boldly and with strength!