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Wednesday, February 06, 2008 

Ash Wednesday

Well, Epiphany has come and gone as we move through the Church year and today we celebrate Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season as we journey with Christ to Jerusalem and the cross. Lent, for the historic church is a 40 day period that will end with Christ’s resurrection Easter morning.
Lent has long been a penitential season where we reflect on our sinful state not by looking inward but rather looking to Him, Jesus the Christ, who takes upon himself not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world.

So tonight, if my bout with a serious bug doesn’t force me to go home, I’ll go to church for the Imposition of Ashes. The ashes are supposed to come from the burning of last year's palm crosses. As the pastor or vicar makes the sign of the cross on the forehead they remind us of our mortality by announcing "From dust thou art and dust shalt thou return".

But isn’t Imposition of Ashes one of those archaic Roman Catholic practices that died 500 years ago? No, it is still practiced in many churches that aren't fearful that they might actually look like a church. Lets take a quick look at the Augsburg Confession

Article XV: Of Ecclesiastical Usages.
1] Of Usages in the Church they teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquillity and good order in the Church, as particular holy days, festivals, and the like. 2] Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation. 3] They are admonished also that human traditions instituted to propitiate God, to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sins, are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith. Wherefore vows and traditions concerning meats and 4] days, etc., instituted to merit grace and to make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the Gospel.


The confessors stated clearly that there are traditions in the church that are good and useful. Things like observing Holy Days and using the historic lectionary are good because they create order within the church. Traditions like the Imposition of Ashes are not commanded but nor are they forbidden, in other words, such traditions are adiaphra and may be used as long as consciences aren't burdened .

But is the Imposition of Ashes Biblical? Well, if Job, the king of Ninevah, Daniel, and Mordecai put ashes on their heads we’d have to say yes.

However a warning is in order, as any sense of false piety is strictly forbidden. Christ warns any who parade themselves as pious in Matthew 6:16;

“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward."


So, tonight, I’ll have a cross of ash put on my forehead and quietly go home and thank God for declaring me righteous, not on the account of anything that I’ve done, but on the account of Christ.

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