On Repentance: Ash Wednesday Meditation

Mosaic of Jesus in Istanbul church - for contemplation on Ash Wednesday
Mosaic of Jesus in Istanbul church
FreeImages.com/ephe drin

God’s call to you on Ash Wednesday

On this day, consider how God calls you. Come back to me, he says, Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning, and turn to the Lord your God. (Joel 2:12-13) You need to hear this call in the depths of your faith and answer it without delay. Do not leave God waiting. Instead, use this day of repentance to put yourself right with him, because nothing is so dear to God as when men and women turn to him with true sorrow for having forgotten his commandments.

We know that God holds such repentance dear to his heart, because Jesus told us plainly that he had come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32) Since God knows even our most secret thoughts, there is no way we could ever claim not to be sinners. (Psalm 93) He has called us to be holy and there is no better time than right now at the beginning of the Season of Lent for you to promise God that you will keep his commands. (1 Thess. 4:6-7; Psalm 118:145-152) It is your chance for a new beginning.

What does Ash Wednesday’s ash symbolise?

As you leave the altar today with the mark of ash on your forehead, consider it’s meaning for it is a symbol of your life: For dust you are and to dust you shall return. (Genesis 3:19) This truth will shadow your every moment whether you are asleep or awake, rich and famous, or poor and forgotten. You may ignore its truth for most of your life but by accident or age, you will finally acknowledge it.

So today is a day set aside to answer God’s wonderful call by our repentance of heart. Let those ashes on your head be the outward sign that you profess a true penitential spirit. Let his mark on your body be an outward sign of your inner contrition of heart. Let it be an emblem of humility and a remembrance of your frail composition and the shortness of your life.

Answer the call

Make good use, then, of these Lenten days of penitence. Spare no pains in asking for God’s mercy in the manner he has declared good for you and acceptable to him, which is through fasting, mourning, and prayer. In this way, we can answer God’s call and prepare for the glory of the Cross, which is the resurrection of Our Lord, Christ-Jesus.

© “Meditations for Lent” by Stafford Whiteaker from “CALLED INTO LIGHT — Meditations with Bishop Challoner for the Christian Year” by Stafford Whiteaker to be published by Gracewing Ltd in late 2021. Permission is granted for quoting from these meditations as long as the source by book title and author is credited. Pre-ordering via www.gracewing.co.uk. (Please note that foreign rights including USA have not yet been finalised. Permission has been granted by the author for this book to be translated into the French language as well as the usual translations given in foreign rights editions.)

3 thoughts on “On Repentance: Ash Wednesday Meditation

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  1. Thank you for this reflection, Stafford. While I appreciate these sentiments, I am wondering whether the more “secular” amongst us (possibly the majority of bloggers and online people?) can relate to the ideas of Lent and of repentance. Could these have meanings for those who do not have a religious culture or faith? If so how? Or are the benefits going to be only for those who are on the/an/your “inside”?

    1. Good morning Nic, Thank you for your thoughtful words and important questions. In the outward signs and ideas of Lent, it seems as if this time of repentence and recounciliation are just about a Christian life. But looking deeper at these two ideas, as part of the process we call Lent, they can have meaning and benefits for those who do not follow any religious faith or culture. First of all, Lent comes in the early days of Spring, when all around us the natural world is showing us a time of new growth and of change. We can see the promise of new life everywhere. It is a time to believe in the future. So in this season, it is worthwhile to pause and reflect on our lives, to see where we are going and, like the world around us, to see how we may flourish. No matter who we are, when we look deep into our interior self, into that part we call “ the heart”, we find good things about ourselves and things we like to keep hidden because we don’t like them. It is these hidden things, those little secret failings, the things we think are “ not good” about us that often make us unhappy, because they lead us astray from how we want to be. We repent of them. We wish to do better. The regret at past behaviours and the desire to try to do better in the future is repentence of the heart. Without first being honest about ourselves, we cannot be honest with any one else, including God. From this time of repentence, we need a healing time, a recounciliation. But until we are recounciliated with ourselves, how can we be recounciliated with others, let alone God? The kind of self-examination that the season of Lent offers is a process that can help everyone, because everyone has a spiritual dimension that demands attention if we are to live a full and healthy life. How we express that dimension is up to us. Some follow the example of Christ and couple repentence and recounciliation to that faith and a church, as I do in Meditations for Lent. Others may follow no established path or even believe in God but that does not mean they do not have a spiritual life just as important as anyone elses. We are told the Holy Spirit, like the wind, goes where it wants. Who can say it will not land in the heart of a secular blogger in Ohio or someone online in London who is not interested in “ religion”? As to fasting, which is what most people think of when they think about Lent, we know a little fasting helps the body and mind, but here is what the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah had to say about fasting for religious reasons:”This is the fast that pleases me, says the Lord: share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor.” What decent man or woman would turn away such need? And so the process of Lent itself with its self-examination, its desire to be more a person of love, and its little bit of self-denial is something we can all benefit from, because it is, like Spring, a time of renewal, hope, and belief in the future. What is the culmination of all of this Lent action? For the Christian it is found in Easter, the resurrection of Christ. This is the celebration of new life, a new Adam and a new Eve. Such a celebration is the opening of every heart to the joy of life. No one need be excluded from the deeper meanings of Lent, since the entire time is devoted to becoming that renewed person, that man or woman of virtue, which is to say, a person of love.

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