Today’s guest post is by Brandon Rappuhn, a Logos marketing copywriter.
For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. (Ecclesiastes 3:19–20)
It is prudent to remember that we are only made of flesh and blood. The flesh and blood of Adam was formed out of the dust of the earth (Gen. 2:7), and when we die, our bodies go back into the ground and become dust again. How often do we consider our own inevitable death? I confess that I keep myself too busy in my daily life to slow down and really consider life, death, heaven, and hell.[i] In a very clever and symbolic way, the Church has developed Ash Wednesday and Lent to reorient ourselves toward our eternal goal.
Repentance is the key to the proper orientation of the heart and the first step on the long road to heaven. Turning away from the ways of sin and toward Jesus and the Cross is the aim of the season—and so from repentance (the attitude of the heart) we get penance (the physical practice of repentance). Lent is a season of penance, which we enter through the doors of Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday began as a public penance some 14 centuries ago. Originally, the penitent would appear barefoot and humbly dressed at the doors to the church. The penitent would then be clad in sackcloth and brought before the bishop, who would make their penances known publicly and would put ashes upon his head. As the centuries went by, the practice gradually became more universal to all Catholics.
Today, we use the ashes from the burned remains of the palm branches from Palm Sunday. Jesus was glorified by the use of palm branches in his triumphant entry into Jerusalem in the days leading up to his crucifixion. The ashes of the palms show us that we cannot gain victory over sin and death except by repentance and humility. Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris . . .
May we all remember on this somber day our origins and our destination. Today we begin Lent—40 days that represent a tenth (or a tithe) of our calendar year, which we offer up in repentance for our sins and penance that we may never sin again. This season, I encourage you to daily consider to what end sin leads, and to what end faith brings you—and to pray with me that Christ brings us there.