Protestant and Catholic Christians around the world observe Ash Wednesday on March 6, 2019. Marking the beginning of the season of Lent, Ash Wednesday has evolved over the centuries from the day that individual public penitents in Rome began their penance to a more generalized rite of congregational penance today. Derived from a word that means “punishment,” penance is defined by The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church as a, “doctrine of the early Church that sins must be atoned for in part by the punishment of the sinner, on the ground that it was better to endure the punishment in this world than in the next.” Nowadays, a priest or minister marks a cross of ashes on the foreheads of individuals not so much as punishment, but to signify publicly that a person is mindful of the sin in his or her life and has begun a solemn journey of Lenten contrition in preparation for the joy of Easter redemption.
The ashes symbolize, among other things, the humility of the penitent. While humankind has accomplished much, there is still wisdom in seeing ourselves as having come from ashes (dirt or dust) and, ultimately, returning to ash as God tells Adam in Genesis 3:19; “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Cultivating humility in one’s life, however, is not an event that occurs once a year on Ash Wednesday, but is a lifelong discipline of learning how to be forgettable.
Our culture resists being forgettable precisely because we forget so much of the day’s overwhelming news and social media input. Memorable standouts, no matter how fleeting, are often celebrated by the world as being successful. Being forgettable, however, does not necessarily equate to being a failure. Consider the scriptural account of Tola. “After the time of Abimelek, a man of Issachar named Tola son of Puah, the son of Dodo, rose to save Israel. He lived in Shamir, in the hill country of Ephraim. He led Israel twenty-three years; then he died, and was buried in Shamir.” -Judges 10:1-2. That’s it. Tola is not remembered like Moses, Elijah, or David. But he appears to have served God’s purposes successfully for twenty-three years in a faithfully forgettable way.
A portion of an Anglican prayer for humility goes like this. “Jesus, grant me the grace to desire...that others may be esteemed more than I; that, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease; that others may be chosen and I set aside; that others may be praised and I unnoticed; that others may be preferred to me in everything; that others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.” On Ash Wednesday, we remember our sins and humbly commit ourselves to becoming forgettable. But especially on Easter Sunday, we celebrate that God remembers us by forgetting our sins. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” -Hebrews 8:12. Perhaps you will join me in remembering to be forgettable by making this prayer for humility a daily spiritual discipline until Easter.
For God and Country!
The Fort Greely Chapel community is open and accessible to everyone in the Delta Junction/Fort Greely community -- even non-military. We are a traditional, protestant Army chapel service meeting on Sundays at 1000 with a weekly Communion observance. Interested? Please call 907-873-4397 to arrange for gate access. “Like” our chapel Facebook page by searching “Fort Greely Chapel” or use your web browser to go to https://www.facebook.com/FGAChapel.