C.S. Lewis warns us, “Do not to live these days for things in our life that will end when you do.”
Scripture: Esther 4:1-4
1 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
4 When Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them.
Reader: This is the word of the Lord. Response: Thanks be to God.
We read in the Bible from time to time about people “repenting in sackcloth and ashes.” (Sackcloth is a course burlap kind of material.) Did this humbling action ever seem to you a little odd and far removed or irrelevant our day? Throughout history, the sprinkling of ashes has been associated with repentance and humbling oneself before God. The ash is a reference back to creation in the Garden of Eden where God formed man from the dust of the earth. Upon death, our bodies decompose to dust or ash. The marking with ash is an admission of mortality before God. Such a marking acknowledges God’s sovereignty over life, my life. I am visibly humbling myself before the Lord as a reflection of my heart. In the story of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and covered himself with ashes. Why? It was a sign of deep humility and his humbling himself before God. In his case, it was a time of great stress for the Jewish people as the foreign king, Ahasuerus, had been duped into signing an irrevocable decree to annihilate the Jewish people. Mordecai’s action was part of a petition to God for deliverance and an expression of total dependence upon the Lord. The use of ashes was (and is) a reminder to people of the fragile and short nature of life, a humbling thought in our world that has such an exalted view of itself. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season in which we daily die to self and focus our attention on the one person, Jesus Christ, who actually humbled himself to the point of death. He truly “died to self” in our place. In that death, he gained the victory over sin, death, and the powers of evil. In response to Lewis’ words, what things are you living for that will continue even after your death? If at all possible, find an Ash Wednesday service you can attend today. Get a piece of sackcloth (burlap) to put in your pocket or on your bathroom mirror during the Lenten season to remind you each day to humble yourself before the Lord and the One who humbled himself for you to the point of death.
Music: “Lord for Thy Tender Mercy’s Sake” Farrant
Hymn: “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days Claudia Hernaman, 1873
1 Lord, who throughout these forty days
for us didst fast and pray,
teach us with you to mourn our sins
and close by you to stay.
2 As you with Satan did contend,
and did the victory win,
O give us strength in you to fight,
in you to conquer sin.
3 As you did hunger and did thirst,
so teach us, gracious Lord,
to die to self, and so to live
by your most holy Word.
4 And thro’ these days of penitence,
and thro’ your Passiontide,
forevermore, in life and death,
O Lord, with us abide.
Prayer: Lord God, our Father in heaven, we confess that we are a people absorbed in our own little worlds. Humbling ourselves is not something we do very well nor very often nor is it even something we like to do. May sackcloth and ashes remind us again of our dependence upon your love and mercy. May we live these days with contrite hearts and humble souls, redeemed by the One who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death on a cross.” In Jesus’ name. Amen. ―Dan Sharp