Today is Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In the church today, many Christians will receive a mark of the cross on their foreheads in the ashes saved from palm branches used in the previous year's Palm Sunday celebration. The mark indicates that their sins are forgiven.

It is an appropriate preparation for celebrating the fasting and reflection that takes place during Lent.

A couple of years ago, I attended two Ash Wednesday services so that I could write an article. First, I attended the Catholic celebration. The place was packed, standing room only. I had to leave early in order to attend a smaller service at the United Methodist service. In this service the pastor gave quiet time for reflection and confession of sin. We did some responsive readings and the pastor talked a little. After this was over we went forward in a line and the pastor rubbed ashes on our foreheads and said that our sins were forgiven. It was very meaningful. I felt buoyant after the service.

Today, however, I will not go to an Ash Wednesday service because there are too many other things going on. In place of this I thought of some scriptures and songs upon which to focus. I thought I would share them with you. Their theme is forgiveness. If you can, take some time to go over them, reflect on what God has done for you and confess anything that hinders your relationship. Then be joyful and give thanks to God for his great love and forgiveness.

Beginning song:

Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners


The Prodigal Son: Luke 15: 11 - 32

This is Rembrandt's great painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, completed in the years just before Rembrandt's death in 1669. An excerpt from a critique by John F. Sawyer:

In the painting, the son has returned home in a wretched state from travels in which he wasted his inheritance and fell into poverty and despair. He kneels before his father in repentance, wishing for forgiveness and a renewed place in the family, having realized that even his father's servants had a better station in life than he. His father receives him with a tender gesture . . . Standing at the right is the prodigal son's older brother, who crosses his hands in judgment; in the parable he objects to the father's compassion for the sinful son:

But he answered his father, "Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him."
—Luke 15:29–30

Whereupon the father responds:

"But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found" (Luke 15:32).

I would also recommend The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers, and Sons, by Henri Nouwen.

Zaccheus: Luke 19: 1 - 10

The Woman Caught in Adultery: John 8: 1 - 11

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Ending Song:

It is Well With My Soul