What’s the point of Ash Wednesday?

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever. Amen. [Book of Common Prayer, p. 217]

In traditional Christian practice, today begins a season of reflection, fasting, introspection for the purpose of repentance and renewed relationship with Almighty God; through the remission of our sins and the forgiveness available by the Cross we approach more closely each day of our Lenten journey.  In short, a check point, a tune up, a time to set aside some comforts and distractions and listen to what God has done, and wants to do.

Perhaps, in the listening, we’ll find those places where God wants to bring us closer to him; where he wants us to yield to his better way; where he will heal us, teach us, refine us.  If we set aside some comforts and distractions and listen for a short season, only a few weeks purposed to uncluttering as we consider Jesus Christ’s approach to the Cross in humilating horror, the fait d’accompli we fallen made necessary, and of which we fallen only can receive the benefit.  Stunning.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,  and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

[Hebrews 12:1-14, ESV]

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