This article is drawn from CTA’s newest prayer journal for adults, Journey to the Cross. It’s intended to help believers prepare for Easter and is one product in a whole line of similarly themed items, intended to help churches make the weeks leading up to Easter meaningful for all worshipers–children, youth, and adults. Check them out!
This day gets its name from a ceremony—a rite or ritual, really— that takes place in many liturgical churches on a Wednesday six weeks or some 40 days before Easter. During Ash Wednesday services, worshipers come forward and the pastor or priest makes a mark in the shape of a cross on each person’s forehead. This mark is made of ashes. Sometimes the ashes come from the palm branches members of the congregation waved in praise during Palm Sunday services the year before. (They bring the dried branches back to church the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the church staff burn them to create the ashes.)
The “imposition of ashes,” as this tradition is called, is one of the most solemn events of the church year. Often, words like these are spoken to each worshiper: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
While the tradition may sound gloomy or even morbid to people in today’s culture, it’s intended to remind us of a solemn truth: trouble, sickness, and death came into God’s perfect creation because human beings rebelled against him. He could have abandoned us, but he didn’t. Instead, he came even closer to us in his Son, Jesus Christ who became a human being to rescue us.
Jesus paid a debt he didn’t owe, because we owed a debt we could never pay. Now, we are free from the debt of sin! We are God’s redeemed people. Christ died, and because of his cross and empty tomb, we will live forever.
A relatively recent tradition in North American Christianity uses the letters WWJD—What Would Jesus Do? As we prepare for Easter, we might well consider a new “translation” for these letters: Why Would Jesus Die? The answer? Because he loves us!
So bear the mark of the cross today! Bear it gladly—whether quietly in your heart or visibly on your clothing or even on your forehead. If anyone asks about it, tell them: Jesus died for me!
You are welcome to copy this article for one-time use in your organization as long as you will receive no monetary benefit from it. Please include the copyright line printed below and submit an actual copy of use to CTA, attention Editorial Coordinator.
Used with permission grant #022012. © 2012 CTA, Inc. No duplication of this article is allowed without the express written consent of CTA, PO Box 1205, Fenton, MO 63026-1205. www.CTAinc.com.