Ash Wednesday | Darrell Gwaltney

Psalms 51:1-17
Joel 2:1-1, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Our cluttered lives distract us from the need for a Lenten season. Confession and
contemplation do not schedule well. We cannot carve out silence and time from our lives
without herculean effort. We struggle to find a place for God in our routine.

Ash Wednesday had its origins as a special time of penitence for people who had committed
a grievous personal or social act. The Lenten period created a time for that person to reflect
upon his or her sins and to repent of them so when Easter arrived, he or she was in full
fellowship once again with the community.

Later, Lent began to focus more on every member of the community preparing for Easter
by reorienting his or her life to God in Jesus Christ. The practice of “giving something up
for Lent” recalls the sacrifice of giving something up for Christ. When we yearn for it, we are
reminded of the commitment we have made to grow closer to God.

Today, when we receive the cross of ashes on our forehead, we are reminded of our
mortality and our sinfulness. We are reminded that from now until Easter we have a unique
opportunity to reorient and reprioritize our lives to grow closer to God.

There is nothing easy to this season of the church year. There is nothing quick about it. It
takes time to clear the head and the heart of all those things that distract us from God.
We will need to make time to meet God during this Lenten season. We will need to carve
out silence and time to sit and wait upon the Lord. We will need to change our routines.

May this Lenten season be a time for each of us to meet God anew in our lives. May God
forgive us of our sins and our conceits. May God create new hearts in us. Let us begin with
the words of the Psalmist David after he had sinned grievously before God:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant
mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me
from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)

Let us begin our journey toward the heart of God today.

DARRELL GWALTNEY
Dean, School of Religion
H. Franklin Pascall Chair of Biblical Studies and Preaching

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