Ash Wednesday, this macabre practice of putting ashes on your forehead in the shape of a cross, is such a countercultural activity that it is amazing that it is still practiced. Ash Wednesday is countercultural because it is a deep and ritualistic focus on the one thing we hate to think about – death. The ashes are a symbol of death and most of the priests/ministers who administer the ashes will say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” That quote is taken directly from Genesis 3 and is a haunting reminder that death is here because of the corrupted, sinful lives that humans live.
So, why would Christians go through this ceremony that is dragging them through the cold, hard realities of evil and destruction and death? Because Christians recognize that in order to live, truly live, they must die.
Die to what? Die to themselves, and that evil destructive nature that resides in them. They must put to death the idols that they have built around them – reputation, relationships, achievement, career. Ash Wednesday is a reminder that all of our striving to make life work on our own, without God’s help, leads to brokenness, sadness, loneliness, and pain. And Jesus, doesn’t let us forget it either.
In the regular practice of the Lord’s Supper, he tells us that his body was broken for us and his blood was shed for us. What an impossible thing to contemplate. The son of God, one without sin, tasted and experienced death. He knew what it was like to die. He didn’t die for the experience, heaven knows, he died so that he could destroy death once and for all.
This thing that us humans had brought on to ourselves he had taken on face first and defeated it by rising from the dead and leaving death behind. He had to live, to die, and to rise as the savior so that we can die to our old sinful life and join him in glory as a new creation and ultimately a resurrected self. Scripture says that Jesus died for all, “that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
Ash Wednesday marks our lives for death and prepares us for what will be coming on Easter – Jesus alive in his glory and our lives transformed. We are no longer destined for dust but a new creation destined for restoration, healing, resurrection, and new life.
Embrace your death today so that you can live in Christ.