Last night I experienced Ash Wednesday for the first time. My friend Annie and I walked into beautiful Chappelwood United Methodist Church just in time to hear the bell choir. The service was simple yet surreal.
We sang a few hymns and heard from a woman who had just visited the Holy Land and walked in Christ’s footsteps. Then came time for everyone to receive Holy Communion and ashes. We simply walked to the front, dipped the bread in the wine, and the minister smeared ashes in the shape of a cross on our foreheads. I only ended up wearing the ashes for a couple hours since the service was at 7 p.m., but even for those two hours, the cross on my forehead was a pretty blatant reminder of what (and Who) I stand for.
Growing up in non-denominational churches, I have never been exposed to many rituals of the Christian faith. I knew very little about Ash Wednesday before attending the service yesterday. I have probably gawked at people with black ash crosses on their foreheads on Ash Wednesdays past because I haven’t understood the symbolism.
As I learned yesterday, Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. These 40 days leading up to Easter are parallel to the 40 days Jesus spent alone into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and nights. Christ’s time in the wilderness was also a time when Satan came to tempt Him, and He overcame temptation by quoting Scriptures.
So Lent is a season for Christians to also sacrifice something in remembrance of the ultimate sacrifice Christ made for us. And when we are tempted, we are to overcome temptation just as Christ did — by speaking the Word of God. Truly our own will power is not enough to overcome temptation; we need to use the Word just like Christ did.
Last night, as we were singing, “We Are Standing On Holy Ground,” I was reminded of what a glorious honor it is to be able to stand in the presence of King Jesus. In the Old Testament, the only person who was allowed to stand on Holy Ground — in the Holy of Holies in the Temple — was the High Priest. And even then, the Jews had to tie a rope to the High Priest’s ankle in case he died as a result of the power of God while in the Holy of Holies.
A thick curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple. But the very moment Jesus spoke, “It is finished” while He was on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38 and Matthew 27:51). What a blatant sign that because of the sacrifice He made, you and I can enter into His presence and stand in the Holy of Holies blameless when we repent of our sins!