Commentary by Rev. Michael VandenBerg
What an exciting time of the year — the Super Bowl has just finished, Mardi Gras is in full swing as I write and Ash Wednesday was Feb. 10.
For many, they know the Super Bowl is the pinnacle of the football season, Mardi Gras is the height of outdoor city-wide parties, but Ash Wednesday? Every year, Christians around the world celebrate Easter by leading in the week before with waving palms and songs of celebration. The King is coming, The King is coming, hallelujah. Of course the week progresses with a last meal with Jesus’ disciples, his execution and then the most astonishing event in all of history — His coming back to life, conquering death and again, celebration.
Ash Wednesday is the front of the bookend events to which Palm Sunday is its conclusion. The previous year’s palms that were waved in victory have dried and been tossed out. It seems a good metaphor of our short memories and even shorter sense of satisfaction in the victories of life. Those same palms are burned and the ashes saved as we come to Ash Wednesday. They are then placed on the forehead of believers to remind them of their own mortality and the frailty of life.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is not so much about what we are giving up, but about what we have become and, in Christ, what we can become. The season is a time of focus on what, if left to our own devices, our lives will become — death. The Bible repeatedly tells us that the results of sin is death. If you sin, you die. If you are not completely pure, you die. If you fall short of what God created you to be, you die. It then says that everyone has fallen short of God’s created perfection by our own choice, so we are in danger of dying.
The good news is that Jesus, the only perfect human/God, died in our place to pay the price so we might not have to die. Believing and accepting his work on our behalf brings about total forgiveness. It doesn’t make us perfect, but it does make us forgiven and with that we can live forever with God in His kingdom and in His perfected living. In other words, we can again become the people we were created to be, not by our own works but by God’s forgiveness.
Imagine, we start with a human party with all its depravity, move to recognizing our mortality and sin, celebrating the perfect payment of our debt to God and ending with that debt being paid so we can live forever as the victors of life. It is like winning the Super Bowl, not just for a season, but forever. It is a celebration that goes on forever, not just a day. It is no more ashes, but always new and perfect living.
If you have never been part of the Lent journey from ashes to new life to fire, I encourage you to find a church that you can experience this lasting new life, new hope and a new you.