Lenten Connections 2017: Ash Wednesday

“‘And yet even now,’ says the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart . . .’”
-Joel 2:12
     Today we begin our Lenten journey toward Easter.  We enter this season meant to help shape us as we set aside real time for the Spirit of God to mold us into a cruciform people, a people who walk the way of the cross.  Over these next six weeks (40 days plus Sundays), many will choose to give up—to fast from—something and allow the longings of the body, for the simple things we sacrifice, to draw our minds and hearts back again and again to the wonder of our God who sacrificed all for us.  Many will choose to add—to hold fast to—a new or more focused practice that will make space for God to draw us into his loving presence again and again.  In choosing to fast from and hold fast to we answer God’s call to return to him with all our hearts.
     Today, many men and women around the globe will also gather for a service of prayer and ashes.  Together, we will speak prayers that are uncomfortable.  We will listen in prayer for promptings from the Spirit that are distressing to receive.  We will listen to each other, as with one voice we declare with our brothers and sisters truth that is disturbing.  The truth that we live in a broken world, that we contribute to that brokenness, that we are broken.  As we own the words, we pray, and the message we hear we will turn to our suffering Saviour and discover him waiting with open arms to pour out his forgiving, healing grace.  In each place, where we have the courage to see and confess our sin, we open the way for our Lord Jesus to apply the forgiveness made available through the cross.
     In our gatherings we will receive a dirty smudge upon our foreheads.  It is an odd thing to do, but that’s okay.  We are his odd people.  On this day, we choose to receive this mark.  To all the world, it looks like the mark of death, made in shape of a cross and the substance of ashes; but we know there is much more to it than that.  The mystery that has been made known to us is this:  the only way to resurrection life, both now and forever, is through the death of Jesus.  We proudly bear the mark of life in the shape of death.
     As we receive the ashes we will hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  With these words we remember who we are.  We are dust, mortal, frail, limited.  Yet while formed out of dust, we are also enlivened by his very breath.  So we ask again for the breath of the Spirit to come upon us anew, reveal our desperate need, hear our confession and bring us fullness of life.  In doing so, we return to him with all our heart.
Pastor Carla
     Prayer: Lord Jesus, I loathe seeing my sin.  It is so much easier to just keep busy, to just stay on the surface, to just believe that I am doing okay on my own.  Help me this day to slow down and listen to you, Spirit of God.  Enable me to discover and uncover the places where I so desperately need you, and through confession receive the wonderful gift you want to give.  Enable me to rest in your gracious forgiveness and as I do, discover more of the life you died to give me. 
     Songs of Confession:  Listen prayerfully to these prayers found in two very different styles.  Resist the urge to watch, but quietly listen and make the words your own.