March 1, 2017
It was justice, of a sort.
Smudges of ash on my forehead in the rough shape of a cross, no, the Cross, the one cross that counts. So many crosses, so many executions, so many guilty souls departed this life from rough-hewn timbers, and perhaps, a much smaller number of innocent souls but with the same outcome. It was justice, of a sort—the Roman sort that kept the peace, Pax Romana, in the known world. All of them are nameless now, forgotten, all save One: Jesus of Nazareth. The actual wood of His cross has long ago rotted into dust. The blood He shed that day has long ago dried and returned as water to the cycle of life from death, life from death.
Yet somehow, that cross remains and that blood still saves.
Lifted to the sky as far as man can reach, the cross graces buildings as diverse as tall stone-cold cathedrals and small rickety wooden churches made of kindling standing in defiance of any threatening flame. The cross has become ornamental to fashion and glitters around the necks of sinners.
The blood is not so popular; it is too close to home. We have blood flowing in us and we want to keep it there, hidden from our eyes for we hate the sight of blood.
Now this—ashes in the shape of the cross on my forehead, expressing hope in the continuing power of that blood—the cleansing blood of Jesus—a spiritual force of forgiveness. It has never lost its power. That blood is my hope. So I take the sign of the cross in deep repentance. I will discipline my rebel flesh with fasting.
I will not speak of it or boast. It will be a secret between Him and me. Like that stone-cold cathedral and that rickety wooden little church, I have lifted His cross as high as I can.
Now, I must be still and let His blood do a deep work in me.
Joel 1:13-14 NIV
Put on sackcloth, O priests, and mourn; wail, you who minister before the altar. Come, spend the night in sackcloth, you who minister before my God; for the grain offerings and drink offerings are withheld from the house of your God. Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.
Matthew 6:16-18 NIV
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Acts 13:1-3 NKJV
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
(from The Book of Common Prayer)
Prayer of Repentance
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved You with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Prayer for the Adminstration of the Ashes
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
Just As I Am
Words: Charlotte Elliot; Music: William Bradbury
1.Just as I am, without one plea, But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come!
2. Just as I am, and waiting not To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come.
3. Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come!
4. Just as I am, poor wretched blind; Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee I find, O Lamb of God, I come!
5. Just as I am, Thou wilt receive, Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come!
© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved