a byword among the nations.Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”
So we hear the prophet’s call to repent and to return to faithfulness in God, but why now? Why today? Whatis the significance of today?Ash Wednesday is not a repeatable date on the calendar, like Christmas on December 25
, but moves about,sometimes earlier, sometimes later in the year because it is connected to another moveable date, Easter. Infact, Ash Wednesday is 46 days before Easter. But why 46? Isn’t that sort of arbitrary? Well, no, not really. Ihave long known that Ash Wednesday and its call to repentance and even the call to give up something or tofast, was connected to the 40 days during which Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert before he began his public ministry, but 40 days doesn’t really account for why this day of remembrance is forty-
days beforeEaster instead of just 40, or does it? This year, for the first time, I was curious enough about this to pull outmy calendar and start counting. If you count forty days from today, you arrive, not at Easter, but land smack dab on top of… Palm Sunday, itself, another celebration.Palm Sunday is intended to remember a joyous day, the day of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and if we were still fasting it would either be less joyous or, perhaps, too much of a temptation to continue the fast.We find therefore that forty days of fasting and prayer, begun on Ash Wednesday, will end the evening beforePalm Sunday. Many people, of course, will continue through Palm Sunday and into Easter itself, but now wesee the connection between Jesus’ time in the wilderness and Ash Wednesday. There is another connectionthat is also meaningful. The Ashes that we use on Ash Wednesday are traditionally made by burning theleftover palm fronds from last year’s Palm Sunday celebration and so, as we put on the ashes we remember our failures of the last year. It wasn’t that long ago that we shouted “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed ishe who comes in the name of the Lord.” We had such high hopes. Jesus would be the king and Lord of our lives, but too often, that wasn’t what happened. The past year hasn’t been perfect. We said things weshouldn’t have said, we did things we shouldn’t have done. We haven’t
like Jesus was the Lord of our lives.Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.As we remember our failures from this past year, we begin to remember why it is that we need to repent. Wehave fallen. We have drifted. We have been intentionally disobedient. We have sinned. We have turned our backs to God. This isn’t new. Failure is common to the human condition and common to followers of JesusChrist. Paul knew that just as well as we do, and, as he wrote to the church in Corinth he said this…
(2 Corinthians 5:20b - 6:10)
We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.
For he says,“In the time of my favor I heard you,and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.
Rather, as servantsof God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;