I'm starting with the man in the mirror; I'm asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer; if you wanna make the world a better place take a look at yourself and then make a change.
Lyrics from the great Michael Jackson and for me, a reminder about what Lent is really all about.
As people of faith we are all challenged to change; to turn away from sin and believe the Good News, the Gospel!
Lent is seasonal. The seasons of the year are the rythym of our lives and so are the seasons of the church year, the liturgical year. Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, is the end of Ordinary Time and now we arrive at Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday. The rythym of Lent is prayer, fasting and almsgiving, a turning away from sinful ways and changing to a life of holiness; the holiness that Christ calls us to.
Jesus challenges us to embrace this Lenten rhythym and not be like the hypocrites who do supposedley holy things for the attention of it all. Jesus is calling us to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God our Father. Jesus says embrace this rhythym of prayer, fasting and almsgviving with humility, sincerity and simplicity of heart. Allow this call to repentenance manifest itself in change, starting with that man in the mirror.
What about ashes, what do they signify. First of all, ashes are not a Sacrament, they are sacramental. The ashes received today are not the most important thing received today because that belongs properly to receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. Still, the ashes signify quite a lot.
Receiving ashes, no matter the form of distribution, signifies humility and repentance. Remember Job? When he finally encounters God and truly believes, he declares God his creator and Job, like you and me, mere creatures; mere dust and ashes in the glorious presence of God. Job embraces his sonship with God the head, the Father. We can quote Genesis 3:19: remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Ashes also signify a reminder of death and a call to wisdom. The call that we shall return to dust could be interpreted another way: remember you are going to die. A salient and sober reminder that all this is passing, yet we get so worked up about these passing things and prepare poorly for the most important thing. We are called to change and not be like the man who stored up all sorts of worldly things only to discover that his soul will be required this very night or the man, storing up treasure upon trasure and never being generous toward to God.
Ashes alone cannot atone for sin. To receive ashes on Ash Wednesday and not go to confession soon misses the point. If we truly desire to repent, if we want to change that man in the mirror, if we want cleanliness and holiness than from the sacramental reception of ashes we should go to the Sacrament of Confession.
Ashes is also a call to faith and a renewal of the mind and heart. When the Gospels declared repentance, the Greek translation is metanoia. We know metanoia as a spiritual change of heart, a new way of thinking. We are challenged to love as God loves, to think as God thinks. This is only possible by God's grace, working through Scripture and the teachings of Holy Mother Church.
So today we receive ashes. We are challenged to see beyond the ritual of the act itself and become that change. Maybe the change Michael Jackson sung about, but definetley the change God asks of us.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel, and make that change.