When I choose to have ashes imposed on my forehead in the sign of the cross, I am making two statements. First, I publicly acknowledge and mourn the sin and brokenness of living far from God. Second, I unapologetically allow myself to be marked as a follower of Jesus Christ and commit to take up my cross and follow him. Do you sense the meaningful symbolism?
Because the Christian faith, as revealed in the New Testament, is squarely built of the faith of the Old Testament, ashes are important symbols to evangelical Christians. In the Old Testament, ashes represent acknowledging and mourning the sin and brokenness of the past as well as a faith-filled decision to turn around and walk in the way of the Lord.
I regret that in the theological zeal of the Reformation, many Christians discarded important Biblical symbols of faith which, when understood and used properly, are designed to help bring the one-dimensional written word of God to three-dimensional reality in our lives.
The historical prayer of the day, drawn from King David's great confession in Psalm 51, acknowledges that some things need to change in our lives and claims the power of the living God to accomplish those changes. King David humbly prayed, "Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your loving kindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit" (Psalm 51:1-3,10-12).
If you would like to ask the Risen Lord to clean your heart, ask him for the faith to re-center your life on Jesus Christ and ask him for the power to get your daily priorities straight. Then I invite you to join me on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, at noon in the Sanctuary of Conyers First United Methodist Church and become a marked man or woman of faith. Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you will find a warm and gracious welcome.
Dr. John Beyers is the Senior Minister of Conyers First United Methodist Church, Main Street in Old Town.