It was Ash Wednesday. A woman who was sitting in a crowded church leaned over to the young man next to her and asked: “What is it that brings so many people out on a cold night, to get a little dirt smeared on their foreheads, and to be reminded that they are sinners and that they are going to die?” He looked at her somewhat oddly and said, “It’s a habit, I guess.”
It must be more than a habit. Ash Wednesday strikes a responsive chord in many people’s hearts. Its theme has a peculiar appeal. It is a time to reflect that we are sinners, that life is finite and that we are all going to wind up as ashes.
But it is something we need to do on occasion. It is a time to confront the failings of ourselves and of our society. It is a time to lay it all on the table and to see who we are and what we are. The mood is penitence and reflection on the quality of our faith and life. A God Alert
Sometime ago a man walked into the Sacramento Police Headquarters and confessed to a crime he had committed 15 years before. The police were dumbfounded. They had no record of the crime and certainly no active investigation of it. In fact, the crime was so insignificant that they refused to even prosecute the man.
And yet, the man insisted that he be charged with the crime so that he could “do the time.” The reason for his confession? He said, “I just haven’t been able to get it off my mind.” Now here was a man willing to subject himself to punishment in order to restore his own peace of mind.
And that’s what God has in mind for us when he says, “Return to the Lord, your God….” Return. Turn back. Repent and begin a new life.
Lent is a time of repentance, a time for confession and the beginning of a new life. The prophet Joel tells us, “God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13).
Repentance does little good if its only purpose is to show off. Repentance has no reward if it is done as a public display of our righteousness. That’s what Jesus warns us of when he says: “Let your acts of righteousness be done in secret … Let your fasting be done in private … For your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18).
Lent is a time, not only of repentance, but also of forgiveness. Lent tells us that God so loved the world that he gave up his only Son on a cross for us that through that one man’s death, God might grant us forgiveness.
An old Scottish clergyman once said that the devil has only two lies to tell us. The first lie the devil tells us comes before we commit a sin. The devil says that it doesn’t matter what we do for no one will know. The second lie the devil tells us comes after we’ve sinned. Then the devil tells us that no one will forgive us for what we have done.
Lent is a time of repentance and forgiveness. Lent tells us that no sin is too little to go without notice, since God sees what is done in secret. Lent also tells us that no sin is too great to be forgiven — our God is ever so loving. Lent is a time for repentance and forgiveness.
Lent is also a time of renewal, hope, and refreshment. It is a time to turn over our burdens to the Lord, knowing that our God is the loving Father in the Prodigal Son story, waiting and looking for us to come home to his loving arms.
Done with the help of Lee Griess