Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

(Joel 2:12-18; II Corinthians 5:2—6:2; Matthew 6:1-16.16-18)

In the great American novel The Scarlet Letter a married woman has sexual relations with a church minister.  When she is discovered with child, she is made to wear the letter “A” meaning adulterer on her cloak.  For years she walks about the town doing countless acts of kindness.  In time the people come to think that the letter sewn on her cloak stands for angel.  The ashes put on Christian foreheads today should experience a similar change of meaning.

Some proudly wear ashes today.  They think the ashes symbolize their being Catholic.  But a person should no more be proud of wearing ashes than of wearing dirty underclothes.  Ashes are a sign of sin.  By seeking them on Ash Wednesday, Christians recognize that they have disobeyed their Creator and turned their backs on their Redeemer.  For this reason, the minister will sometimes say when imposing ashes, “Repent and believe…”

Yet ashes are not to stay on our foreheads forever.  Of course, we soon wash them off.  But more importantly, we confess our sins and change our ways.  Particularly during this season of Lent we pray, fast, and do works of mercy as today’s gospel recommends.  The ashes then take on new meaning.  They are not signs that we have sinned but stimuli that have drawn us closer to the Lord.