Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent (the six weeks of prayer and fasting heading into Easter). It kicks off a period of intensified devotion, prayer, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines in preparation for the celebration of Resurrection Sunday.
Christians typically celebrate Ash Wednesday with a worship service that includes the ritual of making the sign of the cross on the forehead from the ashes of the burned palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. The ashes remind us of God’s curse on Adam that he will return to dust because of his disobedience in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:19).
In preparation for celebrating Jesus’s victory of death, Ash Wednesday is a reminder that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Sin in the world means the reign of evil, tyranny, corruption, and decay. It also means that we all end up dead in the ground. We will, as sure as the sun rises, return to dust. Because of sin, death wins.
Often, I get caught up focusing on the fact that the good news of Christianity is that we are set free from the guilt and power of sin. I’m swept away by the wonderful reality that we are no longer guilty, and we do not have to keep sinning. However, there is another piece of beautiful news of the gospel: the promise of bodily resurrection. Paul says, “For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection (Rom. 6:5; also see 1 Cor. 6:14).
God promises Christians that we will receive a glorified body just like Jesus. He promises that those in Christ will one day be free from the corruption and decay of our diseased physicality. That yes, we will return to ash, but that we, in Christ, will rise from the ashes as the new creation.
Easter Sunday is the celebration of the lifting of the curse of death through the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus, through perfect obedience, undid what Adam did in his rebellion. By taking on the wages of sin into himself as the perfect sacrifice, Jesus reversed the curse. Jesus rises from the ashes of death as the firstborn of the new creation.
And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. I Corinthians 6:14
Dr. Matt Ayars