Photos, awards, a folded American flag, certificates, and various hats revealed a life well-lived in the service of others and God. This table of remembrance, set up near the chapel entrance, displayed things representing my friend’s father’s life. Attending a memorial service brings a stark reminder of what is left behind after someone dies.
What are the only two things that last into eternity?
People and the Word of God
Ash Wednesday (March 2nd) will mark the first day of the 40-day season of Lent and serves as a perfect reminder of this truth. Everything is actively passing away. My physical life on earth, my money, my house, and all my possessions will fade away sooner or later.
The Ash Wednesday service offers, “a chance to kneel and receive the mark of mortal nature,” says Fr. Thomas McKenzie in his book, The Anglican Way.
An Anglican Ash Wednesday service often inserts Psalm 103 into the liturgy. The first seven verses of Psalm 103 begin with praising God and offering perspective.
1 Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The LORD works righteousness, and justice for all the oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: Psalm 103:1-7 NIV
We can praise God as we begin Lent on this Ash Wednesday because of all the benefits He provides.
- Love and compassion
- Righteousness and Justice
- Knowledge of His ways and deeds
God warns us not to forget them (vs. 2). Perhaps we need to create a table of remembrance in our own lives on a regular basis to keep these benefits in our minds and our hearts?
How have you seen God provide each one of these gifts recently?
The next seven verses of Psalm 103 may be shared early in the Ash Wednesday service liturgy.
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:8-14 NIV
How have you seen the compassion of the Lord in your life recently?
As the Ash Wednesday service continues, a reading of the Gospel is shared, a sermon is given, and then the priest says,
“Let us now call to mind our sin and the infinite mercy of God.”
A prayer follows.
Almighty God, you have created us from the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be for us a symbol of our mortality and a sign of penitence, that we may remember that it is by your grace alone that we receive the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
ACNA BCP 2019 p. 545.
(Anglican Church in North America, The Book of Common Prayer published in 2019.)
Verse 14 is echoed in the liturgy when the priest marks a cross on each participant’s forehead, saying, “remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.”
Such a profound and sobering declaration. This ashen cross marking announces to a watching world both our mortality and penitence as believers.
Psalm 103 continues with eight final verses contrasting our mortality on earth and God’s eternal nature.
15 The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. 17 But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— 18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. 19 The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. 20 Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21 Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. 22 Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, my soul. Psalm 103:15-22 NIV
When I am reminded of both my mortality and the grace of eternal life through Jesus Christ, all I can do is praise Him. Like the psalmist, I truly want to praise Him with all of my soul.
During the next forty days, whether you attend an Ash Wednesday service or not, why not accept an invitation to Lent.
Lent is not a season of limitation, but instead, it is an amazing opportunity for grace and growth. Lent can be a time of Holy preparation, and an opportunity to create margin in a busy life by giving up something or taking on a life-giving practice. Fr. Thomas McKenzie says, “The disciplines are meant to empty us so the Lord may fill us.”
How will you observe the season of Lent this year?
Do you have any questions about Lent?