An Ash Wednesday Reflection
Today is Ash Wednesday. It is a tradition that we low church Baptists have tended to ignore, but regardless of whether we attend a formal Ash Wednesday service or not, there is great wisdom and truth in what this day represents to the greater Christian family. The ashes are a simple and powerful reminder of our mortality. We spend much of our lives trying to ignore that fact about ourselves. We think that if we can accomplish enough or experience enough or earn enough that we can somehow transcend our frail and limited condition as created beings. But we cannot. The traditional Ash Wednesday blessing, which is taken from God's words to Adam in Genesis 3:19, speaks an inescapable truth: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return." No matter our station in life, no matter our race or our economic status or our family history, every single one of us came into this world as a naked bundle of nothing, and we will all leave this world in exactly the same way. The ashes of this day call us back to a humble acceptance of our mortal existence.
But that acknowledgement is not intended to be a sign of despair. For those who go through the simple ritual of this day, the ashes are imposed on the forehead in the sign of a cross. That cross redefines our mortality. That ashen cross says, in effect, "Yes, you are dust. Yes, you will die. But if you will take this gift, you have the option of dying in Christ. And his death transforms your death. By dying in and through Him, your mortal self will one day be clothed with His immortality." This is the heart of the gospel. On my own I can do nothing to escape my condition, but by the grace of God, I don't have to. Yes, I am dust. I cannot hide from this fact, no matter how hard I try. But as Job 19:26, declares, "And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God."
While it is not technically about Ash Wednesday, this brief video is a powerful illustration of what this day means. At one point in his life, Scott Hamilton was the epitome of worldly success. As an Olympic Gold Medalist he climbed about as high up the ladder of achievement as you can get. Yet not even that shielded him from the frailties and vulnerabilities of his humanity. He has had to stare his own mortality directly in the face. However, he has learned by faith to allow those burdens and tragedies to become opportunities for God's grace to shine brightly. As much as we may try to flex our muscles against the vicissitudes and vagaries of life, the Apostle Paul reminds in 2 Corinthians 12:10, "When I am weak, then I am strong."
I encourage you to take ten minutes out of your day to watch this video. And then, in the words of another traditional Ash Wednesday blessing, "Repent, and believe the good news of the gospel."