Ash Wednesday, March 6th
Lament: to mourn aloud; to express sorrow, mourning, or regret; to regret strongly*
James 4: 8-10 (NRSV)
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
I love how the Lenten cycle moves us from death to life each year. We begin with the somber reminder that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19). We spend the next weeks in penitence and fasting, aware of our need for God’s forgiveness and mercy. We revisit the examples from Jesus’ life with the hope of growing as his followers. We sadly remember the result of our sinful humanity on Good Friday. But we close the Lenten season with the joyous Easter resurrection! Death has been overcome and new life is restored.
This first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, is the day to especially lament our sins and brokenness. We sorrowfully confess the times we have disobeyed and grieved God. We receive the ashes as a visible reminder that we are dust. Ash Wednesday is the day we tell God we are truly sorry for our sins.
Growing up, many of us heard the stern command from a frustrated parent, “Tell your sister/brother you’re sorry!” Strained apologies were stiffly exchanged; reluctant hugs were grudgingly shared. Both parties knew these actions weren’t sincere, but were only being carried out to avoid further punishment! We weren’t truly lamenting our sins or even admitting we were wrong.
Even as adults, we may often qualify our apologies. When we say, “I’m sorry IF that hurt you,” or “I’m sorry, BUT…” we are deflecting some of our guilt or responsibility for the hurt. Using the word if seems to imply that the hurt may be the fault of the one receiving our apology. IF you weren’t so sensitive… IF you really understood… IF you weren’t so demanding. When we use the word but, we are already excusing our behavior, even before the apology is heard and accepted!
Let’s begin our Lenten reflection and growth by truly lamenting the ways we have sinned against God. We are even called to “mourn and weep.” We do not have to lament in order to please an angry parent. We do not have to lament in order to avoid punishment. We do not need to qualify or excuse our sins in order to justify ourselves before God. Through Jesus, we know that we have already been totally forgiven.
There is no need to be defensive, so we can honestly confess and humbly lament our sins before God. We can also ask God to reveal sins of which we are not aware. God knows our hearts even more than we do. God just wants us to recognize our sins in order to repent of them and surrender them. As we lament and confess, God will cleanse us, renew us, and free us of our burdens. Our confessions before God will be lovingly heard, forgiven and healed.
*All definitions will be excerpted from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/
Photo credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash