Ash Wednesday – Feb. 14, 2018

THE HISTORY AND SYMBOLS OF LENT

The word Lent is from the Old English root lengthen, meaning Spring.  This is when days get longer.

SYMBOLS OF LENT: Color – Purple The color for the Church Season is purple.  Until about forty years ago, purple was used for both Lent and Advent.  It has long been felt that, even though they are both seasons of preparation, Advent and Lent had different moods, Advent being more anticipatory, Lent being more penitential.  To distinguish the two, the preferred color for Advent is blue in the Lutheran Church.

Ashes

Ashes are an ancient symbol of humility, grief, and repentance.   When Abraham humbly approaches God to beg for mercy for the cities of the plain he says, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.”  (Gen. 18:27) Tamar grieves for her circumstances: “But Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went.” (2 Samuel 13:19) “When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry.”    (Esther 4:1) When Job repents he says, “therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)

Ashes are a sign of new growth. In early spring farmers used to burn the stubble left in the field from last year’s harvest.  The practice cleared the field and got it ready to plant again.  Thus, the ashes became a sign of preparation for new life.

Ashes are made from last year’s palms. The celebration of Palm Sunday is marked by waving palms and welcoming Jesus in triumph.  Every year the palms are saved and burned to mark on the heads of the congregation on Ash Wednesday.

Ashes are a sign of our mortality. On Ash Wednesday, ashes are marked on people’s foreheads in the sign of the cross, in remembrance of baptism.  The words are said, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”; the words God spoke to Adam and Eve to remind them that they would die.  Our Lenten journey begins with the reminder that we will die as we prepare for the good news of the Resurrection at Easter.

Sermon: From Fear to Love.

Dearly beloved in Christ, you have by now noticed several times that this year Ash Wednesday falls on Saint Valentine’s Day… today!   I underline the word Saint because the world will mark today hardly remembering the true significance of February 14 in this year of 2018.  For the world,  it will be about chocolate and flowers and romance, and so many single brothers and sisters feeling left out of it all while others fall under the spell of a fat little winged cherub with a bow and arrow in his hands.

Have you ever heard the story of the “Real Saint Valentine”?  He was a Christian Pastor who lived in the third century and served the Lord in the city of Rome.  It was around the year 260 or so that the emperor Claudius II, who was no friend of Christianity but in fact a persecutor of the faith, who came up with a uniquely perverted idea.  He needed soldiers for his armies.  He felt that a married soldier would never fight as well as a single man because married men would think of their wives and children at home rather than focus on battle and giving their lives for Rome if need be.  So, Claudius II actually outlawed marriage.   Valentinus (The Latin name for Valentine) felt that he could not deny the blessings of the Lord through marriage and so he performed weddings in secret.  Eventually found out he was thrown into prison and was given the choice of denying Jesus or suffering the triple execution of beating, stoning, and beheading.  Valentinus refused to deny his faith.  The Jailer, a Roman named Asterius, mocked him by offering him freedom if in the name of Jesus Valentinus could heal his little girl of her blindness.  Valentine admitted that he could not heal, but only the Savior could- however, he would lay his hands on the girl and pray for her.  The miraculous occurred and this little daughter regained sight.  The jailer Asterius came to faith and he and his household were baptized.  He even freed all the Christian prisoners in his jail who were suffering from the persecution Claudius II had forced upon the Church.

Eventually Valentine was captured once more in 269 AD and this time Claudius personally forced the situation upon Valentine.  Given his one chance by renouncing the Lord Valentine chose martyrdom and painful execution.  Legend has it that on the day before he was to die the little girl and her family stood outside his prison window for one last visit with the Saint.  Supposedly he took a small piece of parchment and wrote her a simple note for her to remember him by.  All it had on it were his written words, “From Your Valentine” – the next day he gave his life for Jesus.

That Saint Valentine will be entirely forgotten by the world.  But on Ash Wednesday, February 14, tonight, we remember those who gave their lives for the truest of loves.  The name of true love is Jesus.  His was that selfless love that looked from heaven and at such a cost drove Him from the joys of that place to enter the darkness and sorrow of our sin-destroyed places and sin-ravaged hearts. He is the one who is characterized in the prodigal son story of Luke 15.  Before, I wore a collar around my neck marking me a saint of the Lord and Shepherd of His congregations, He wore a crown of thorns for me and you.  He engraved our name on the palms of His hands with iron spikes.  In my favorite verse in all the Bible, John 13:1 it says of Jesus, “Having loved His own who were in the world… He loved them to the end.”  He loved you and me, dear Brothers and sisters, to the end.  It was an end to which our sin brought Him but He gladly did that and if I may use one final play on this year’s dating, if He could have, Jesus would have written to each of us with His own blood, “From Your Jesus.”

He is Your Jesus, dear Brothers and Sisters, Women and Men of God.  He died for us; He rose for us. He reigns for us.  He will return for us.  On Sundays, His body and blood are “given and shed for you.” God bless us all as we take the next 40 days to mediate on our Loving Father as we prodigals return from fear to loving God and one another. That is our Holy Task. It is my joy and unbounded privilege to remind your hearts personally, that all of it- all that we are and all that we will be, is after-all, “From Your Jesus”

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