Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season, where repentance comes into fuller focus for the Church. The lectionary texts for Ash Wednesday include Psalm 51 and 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10. The Psalm is a prayer to the Lord for mercy, due to the fact that we are born sinners. The Psalm speaks that truth that we must be delivered from our sin by the Lord Himself; nothing we can do can save us. Only the Lord can save.
Psalm 51 therefore leads into Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). The favorable time of salvation has come with Jesus Christ. Paul notes that God sent Christ to be the sacrifice for our sins: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ took our sin upon himself, both our inherited sin from Adam and Eve as well as our sins we have committed. In exchange, Christ gives us his righteousness as a gift. This is the mercy of God: He has saved us freely through Christ.
Paul’s letter continues by noting the contrast between the way the world considers us and the way we actually are. The world looks upon us as “having nothing” and yet we “[possess] everything.” In Christ, we truly possess everything. In Christ, we have the favor of the Lord and salvation. In Christ, God fulfills the prayer of Psalm 51 as we are forgiven of our sins and iniquities. Then, everything we do flows out of this forgiveness, as in Psalm 51:14 where it notes that because we have been delivered, we sing aloud of the Lord’s righteousness.
So, on this Ash Wednesday when Christians all over the world mark themselves with ashes in the sign of the cross, we remember that although we return to the dust when we die, we will not remain there. Christ has saved us through his cross and resurrection, and he is returning to raise us up. We will not remain as bones and dust, but will live again, body and soul, with the Lord and each other forever.
“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” – this day has come to us through Christ.
(Image by Oxh973 (Own work by Jennifer Balaska) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons” href=”http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACrossofashes.jpg”)