We had a heavy snowfall about a week ago. It lasted for two days, the roads were slushy, the power was out; it got cold in our house. Today I am ready for spring. I want out of this grey, wet winter. But looking at my photos from last week, I’m reminded of how beautiful that day was. How happy I was to walk in the falling snow, to see everything blanketed in that fresh whiteness.
Today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of Lent.
Throughout the Bible, ashes represent sorrow. Despair. Remorse.
“For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink, because of Your indignation and anger; for You have taken me up and thrown me down.”
Over and over we can read about the horrific distance between us and God. The sorrow that reduces everything to ash.
“He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.'”
Where can you go that is lower than ash? What can be made from the dust of what has been?
“God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes.”
It’s an easy place to get stuck. In hopelessness. A certain kind of impotence as we realize our own sin and weakness.
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
But I have to believe there is something more than dust and ashes. Because I believe in a God of miracles and strength and, above all, a God who loves me. A God who loves me amidst the ashes.
I believe that there can be something after the ash.
“Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking Him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.”
That’s why Lent doesn’t end with Ash Wednesday. It begins there. We walk through the valley of darkness because we follow a God who walked there too.
You know where it ends?
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant those who mourn in Zion – to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning.”
It ends with an empty tomb and a risen Lord.
Today is Ash Wednesday and it’s only the beginning.
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.”
As surely as the spring always follows winter.