And that is certainly true. We aren’t Catholic. It’s pretty clearly spelled out in the name.
But why should Catholics get to have all the fun?
Not that Ash Wednesday is fun exactly, but it is a powerful and physical way to remind ourselves that our fate is in God’s hands. The good news, of course, is that when we trust our fate to him, he promises that all will end well.
Before we talk more about that, here’s quick primer on the whole Ash Wednesday thing. Ash Wednesday is the traditional first day of the season of Lent. Lent encompasses approximately 6 weeks leading up to Resurrection Day, and has traditionally been a time to focus on repentance and sharing in the human suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you want to know more about Lent, you can read a great article on the site InternetMonk.com.
Ash Wednesday is often observed by a worship service of which the centerpiece is the minister or priest taking a bit of ash mixed with oil onto his finger, and drawing the shape of the cross on your forehead. This is called the “imposition of ashes.” At that same time, the minister will say something like, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” In other words, it is reminder that in the end, every one of us is going to die.
In world obsessed with youth, with accomplishment, with winning, with beauty, and with feeling happy all the time, this might seem like kind of a downer. But for Christians – that is everyone who trusts in Jesus for rescue from sin and death – that’s not bad news. In fact, the Good News of Jesus Christ is inextricably bound up with death – both his death and ours. Because Jesus death destroyed the power of sin that separates us from the Living God, and because his resurrection opens eternal life with God to all who believe, death is no longer a downer, but actually the path to True and Better Life with the Source of All Life.
It is as Jesus told his disciples, "And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."
So when we remind ourselves and each other that death is certain, we are using death as a lens to look past death to our resurrection in Christ. Death is not nothing. It is real, and it is hard. But because Jesus has transformed death by his own death and resurrection, he has transformed our death as well. The meaning of death is changed from hopeless darkness into a bright and certain hope. And we who trust in him get to share in that hope. We get to rely on that hope. We can face death with confidence and even joy because we know that the end has been re-written.
But to ignore the dying part, and just focus on the resurrection part is not really telling the whole story. There is no resurrection without death on the cross. No Easter without Good Friday. That’s why we do Ash Wednesday. The suffering and death of our Lord Jesus is so big, and so important, that it is worth meditating upon it for six weeks. And we start on Ash Wednesday by undertaking a simple symbolic physical act that ties our death to his.
You don’t have to be Roman Catholic to do that. That’s why we are a Baptist church holding an Ash Wednesday service. In the end, it isn’t about being Baptist, or Catholic, or Orthodox or any other flavor of Christian experience. It’s about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. Because it is Jesus Christ who is Good News for all people.