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What We Believe — the significance of Ash Wednesday

With Christmas now in our rear view mirror, and the season of Epiphany coming to an end, later this month we turn our attention to the season of Lent. In calendar days, we have just welcomed the Newborn King (Jesus born), and soon our focus shifts to the cross where He died.

Lent is a solemn time to remember Jesus’ suffering, but also to reflect on why He took the path of suffering: to become the sacrifice for our sins. More than a victim, more than a martyr for a cause, Jesus’ death and resurrection satisfied God’s Law that the wages of sin is death, appeased God’s wrath and won for us forgiveness of our sins. Jesus had no sin of His own, but rather took our sins upon His shoulders and died on the cross in our place.

Because of this we live in the joy of second chances and new life, yet we should not forget to stop and measure the cost and the extent of God’s love to provide His Son as our substitute. We begin Lent with Ash Wednesday as that opportunity for such reflection. Christians receive ashes in the shape of a cross and wear them upon their foreheads for the day recalling the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We wear this ash to remind ourselves that we are temporal, mortal, destined to return to the dust of the ground to which human life was first formed, unable to attain salvation on our own. We wear this ash as a sign of humility, to repent of our pride and our vanity. For without Easter Sunday, where Jesus’ resurrection defeated death giving us the eternal life we could not attain, we would otherwise return to dust, be declared dead in sin, unworthy before a holy God.

We are caught in conflict between two opposing wills: the will of God calling us to deny ourselves, love one another, and seek first the kingdom of God, praying, “Thy will be done,” and our own sinful will, that puts ourselves before God, saying, “My will be done.”

When Easter comes, we celebrate that we live because Jesus lives, death has no hold on Him. Yet at Ash Wednesday, and for the season of Lent, we consider the cost. We consider the agony of the cross, the horror, the unimaginable burden of all the sins of the world heaped upon God’s Son, and we ask: who would endure this for me? Perhaps a soldier would give his/her life for one’s country. Perhaps a parent would give his/her life for one’s own children. But who would die for me? Who would die for those who rebel against Him, for those who reject Him? Who would die for those who so often forget Him, and fail to honor Him?

Stop and spend the time in meditation, reflect on our own mortality, remember how we have strayed from God’s will, consider the cost of the gift of forgiveness offered, remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The old sinfulness that found us guilty against God, Jesus dealt with on the cross. Our life is new in Christ. In a solemn season such as Lent, this joy awaits. This is what we believe!

If you would like further dialog on what we believe, visit one of our churches or correspond with us. Our church email is stpaullcfredonia@outlook.com. Our churches are: St. Paul Lutheran church in Fredonia (672-6731), Immanuel Lutheran Church in Gowanda (532-4342), and Trinity Lutheran Church in Silver Creek (934-2002).

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