Stirring the Ashes: Ash Wednesday

We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.
Psalm 44:25-26 (NIV)

The Oneida of Wisconsin observe the practice of a midwinter festival which begins their New Year in January or February.  The opening of this festival is the “stirring of the ashes,” thought to represent giving thanks to the Creator for all of the blessings of the past year and asking for renewal upon the earth.

As Christians, we begin our observance of Lent with a “stirring of the ashes.”  The ashes of last year’s palm fronds are stirred with a small amount of olive oil and smudged upon the foreheads of worshippers during the Ash Wednesday service.  Our stirring of the ashes reminds us that we are frail and broken creatures.  We are dust, and to dust, we shall return (Genesis 3:19).  With this sign of penitence, we acknowledge our dependence upon God for His restoration and renewal.  We need His unfailing love.

The good news of our stirring of the ashes is that God has heard our prayer.  Even before we asked, God provided eternal blessings.  He has rescued us from our sin and taken away the eternal consequences of our rebellion and failure.  He has given us renewal, new life, and a new start.  As Jesus was lifted up on the cross, the faithful love of God was demonstrated.  His death is our life.  His unfailing mercy is our strength.  The empty tomb is our hope.

Creator God, we thank you for all the blessings we have received from your gracious hand.  Thank you for the rescue and renewal you provide in Jesus.  As I journey with you this Lenten season, renew and encourage my faith and trust in you. Help me to remember the new life you gave me at my baptism, and remind me daily what it means to be a child of God and to live in that new life. Amen.

Rev. Mark Schumm
Oneida, Wisconsin

Read & Reflect: March 2-4

Read: Joel 2:12-14, Mark 7:6-9

Reflect: Often, it is the “things” of this world we cling to, those things that fill the empty hours and empty hearts. But God says, “return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). He wants the Holy Spirit to fill those empty places. What things in your life, or time-wasters in your day, are taking you further away from Jesus?

Read: Psalm 91:1-6, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Hebrews 4:16

Reflect: It is never easy to change our ways, but, thankfully, we don’t have to do it alone. We have a God who loves us and wants, more than anything, to be in a relationship with us. We also have a Lord and Savior who withstood the same temptations we face. Ask Him for guidance and protection as you seek to live as a child of God. Who in your life can you ask to join you in this Lenten journey?

Read: Isaiah 58:6-11, John 13:34-35, Matthew 25:34-40

Reflect: The best way to begin living your life for Him is to live your life for others. Stop worrying about yourself, and take a look at those around you. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Take today to look at the world through Jesus’ eyes. Where would Jesus go? What would He do? Who do you see that desperately needs Jesus’ love? What steps can you take this Lent Season to share Jesus’ love?