Next week sees the start of Lent, the season of preparation for Easter. Like midnight communion on Christmas- and Easter Eves, and Epiphany, the Ash Wednesday ashing service is one of the liturgical highlights of the year for me.
The marking of a cross on our forehead in ash [traditionally made by burning Palm Sunday crosses from the previous year] is an incredibly rich symbol. The ash reminds us of our mortality – from dust we were made, and to dust we shall return. The cross reminds us that, in Jesus, the immortal God chose to take on himself our mortality, in order that we might take on his eternal life.
This exchange is a covenant – most familiar to us in the words of the marriage ceremony: “All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.” The words spoken express a declaration of the will – chosen and determined intent. Jesus demonstrates his will to confer on us his life, by taking upon himself our death.
But in a covenant, the will of one party never violates the will of the other. Next Wednesday is an opportunity for us to choose to let Jesus embrace our death – our physical brokenness [e.g. sickness], emotional brokenness [e.g. loss], spiritual brokenness [e.g. recurring struggles with a particular temptation] – and to choose to embrace his life – his physical and emotional healing, spiritual more-than-conqueror-ness. This Lent, let us choose to live life more fully than before.