Ash Wednesday: Holiday or holy day?

By The Rev. Thomas J. Salmon, Mukilteo Presbyterian Church | Feb 13, 2013

Today Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season in the church year known as Lent, a 40-day period set apart by the church for spiritual reflection and renewal.

Is Ash Wednesday a holiday or a holy day?

Clearly, it is not a holiday. None of us got the day off. I doubt anyone here or anywhere else planned a party with an Ash Wednesday theme. Do any of us send cards or exchange gifts on this special day?

Ash Wednesday is not a holiday but it is a holy day for Christians. But I’ll bet that of all the sacred days of the Christian year, our least favorite is this one.

We all love the joyous celebrations of Christmas and Easter. Most worship attendance increases dramatically on those holidays. But in between comes Ash Wednesday, turning our joy to sadness and gloom.

Lots of folks assume that Christians are a rather gloomy bunch anyway, perhaps like the Puritans many years ago. You know what a Puritan is? It’s someone who lives with the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be having a good time!

We all know those types and resist hanging out with them on a regular basis. Unfortunately, there are some who continue to think that once one becomes a Christian the party is over.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Jesus said that he came into our world to bring us life in all of its fullness. The Bible teaches us that life is a precious gift to be cherished, and that one day we will have to give this earthly existence. We need to be reminded of that from time to time.

Ash Wednesday helps us face our mortality and our brokenness so that we might be prepared for the new and eternal life offered in Jesus Christ whose resurrection we celebrate on Easter Sunday.

We need Ash Wednesday every bit as much as we need all the other holy days of the church year because we need to get honest with God and ourselves.

Ash Wednesday invites us to admit: “Merciful God, here I am – imperfect, incomplete, weak and broken. Here I am – sinner and saint all rolled into one. Here I am – fearful, anxious, needy and uncertain. Here I am – repentant and hopeful. Thank you for loving me and accepting me in all of my weakness.”

I don’t know about you, but I need Ash Wednesday. When we see the sign of the cross on our foreheads, made with ashes, it is a reminder that we do not ultimately belong to a world of death and sin, but to a gracious and loving God.

I’m glad that today is Ash Wednesday. I think maybe it comes along just in time.

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