Ash Wednesday

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- Jared Ayers

(From our Lent & Easter Prayerbook. Click here to download to your phone, tablet or computer)

A journey, a pilgrimage!  Yet, as we begin it, as we make the first step into the “bright sadness” of Lent, we see- far, far away- the destination.  It is the joy of Easter, it is the entrance into the glory of the Kingdom.
-Alexander Schmemann

Lent is a 40-day journey in which we follow Jesus to the Cross, and then celebrate his death-destroying Resurrection.  As we make this pilgrimage together, whether for the first or sixty-first time, God contours our lives around the cross and empty tomb of Christ.  I’ve noticed, in practicing Lent, that it’s a living paradox- a “bright sadness,” as the Eastern Orthodox part of the Church puts it.

There’s a sadness to Lent.  Lent kicks off in stark style with Ash Wednesday.  The ashes that a minister smudges into our foreheads are a sober reminder of our own frailty and mortality.  This came home to me in visceral fashion when, leading my very first Ash Wednesday service, as my own wife and children approached the front of the church, I had to smudge ash on each of their foreheads, look them each in the eye, and pronounce, “From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return.”  Ash Wednesday, and the pilgrimage of Lent, shake us awake from our delusions and pretensions, force us to plumb our own depths, and alert us to our need for the rescue God accomplishes for us in Christ.

But there’s also brightness in Lent.  We trek with Jesus toward the Cross, watch him die, see him lowered into the restful, awful silence of the tomb- but then, Easter!  In staggering surprise, we hear the news: Christ is risen!  The journey through Lent, and into Easter, unveils for us the expansive love of God, the beauty of Christ, and the presence of God’s living Spirit.  And that makes Lent a pilgrimage worth taking.
 

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Jared Ayers serves as the preaching pastor of Liberti Church, with campuses in Center City and Main Line Philadelphia. He is married to Monica, and they've been graced with two sons (Brennan and Kuyper) and a daughter (Rae Ann).