Ash Wednesday Devotional from Ryan Edgecombe

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1 John 1-3 "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ."

As I reflect on this Holy Day... Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten Season... I start thinking about the five senses that God has given us and how God's truth can enter deep within our soul through these five senses, and this is our nourishment.

Some of our brothers and sisters in Christ use the aroma of incense to communicate the precious and sweet nature of the prayer life of the disciple. How beautiful! This might sound strange, but when I smell the scent of grape koolaid I am transported about 60 miles east to the Oreana Christian Church (where I grew up), and I witness the ladies of the church preparing the snacks and the lessons and the drinks for our Vacation Bible School, and I remember countless individuals from that congregation that served something/someone far greater than themselves for years and years and years.

There is a reason for those senses in God's Divine Purpose!

What about light and truth coming in through our tactile senses or sense of touch? Do you remember the first time you held a bible in your hands and you felt that thin crumbly paper and you might have thought, "Hey... this must be a special book because it's got paper like I've never seen before." Can the touch of someone's hand in yours or an arm around your shoulder communicate that you are not alone and that your Creator loves you? How about the feeling of taking a hot plate of food, lovingly made for you by one of God's children or the feeling of sore arms and shoulders from helping a neighbor move to a new home.

There is a reason for those senses in God's Divine Purpose!

Of course our hearing hardly needs any explanation... Romans 10:17... Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God! Think of the thousands of individuals that were never the same after they heard a Billy Graham sermon for the first time, or when a scripture they had heard 100 times at church finally made sense and lifted a burden or brought assurance on the 101st time they heard it! I guarantee you that I've started my day off well, if on the way to Broadwell or Petersburg I start to listen to good old quartet gospel music, like the Stamps Quartet, the Statesmen Quartet, and The Oak Ridge Quartet before they were the Oak Ridge Boys. I crank it up loud and sing louder.

There is a reason for those senses in God's Divine Purpose!

And then there are those tastebuds... sometimes they lead us to excess and gluttony... sometimes they lead us to the presence of Almighty God, especially when we take the bread, and break it, and taste it. Communion bread has a taste that you remember, and hopefully every time you taste that bread you are transported to the foot of the cross. Whether you use grape juice or wine you know the type that you use and you know what it tastes like. We are compelled to become a witness anew to the passion of your Lord as we drink the cup.


There is a reason for those senses in God's Divine Purpose!

And now, the part that we have all been waiting to get to... the visuals of our worship experience... the way God uses the visible to communicate incomprehensible truth. The Colorful Stained Glass... the tall ceilings... the beautiful crosses... the candles burning with the light of God's love... We have such a sense of awe as we take in all of these visuals that are meant to increase our appreciation of God the Creator... God the Omnipotent... God the One who Reconciles....

There is a reason for those senses in God's Divine Purpose!

And now we turn to a small dark, sometimes smudgy or hard to identify cross that is applied to the forehead. This visual is not going to lead us to celebration, and it's not meant to. This visual is not necessarily going to give us the warm fuzzies as if we are wrapped up in a soft blanket. The application of these ashes stands as a small but powerful visual of humility... of penitence... of a recognition of God's infinite nature and our finite or limited nature... and especially a visual of grief due to the recognition of the sin and brokenness we observe in our world communally and in our lives personally. Taking on these ashes this evening is not really fun... it's not really enjoyable... it's not really something that makes you feel great as you recognize the mess that our world is in and the messes that we have made ourselves. It's not fun to recognize the limitations of human autonomy or human potential. I don't see people lining up by the hundreds or thousands here in Menard County to take on a symbol of human impotence and/or dependence and/or helplessness.

I have gotten a lot of texts today saying: "Happy Valentine's Day," but I have not received any texts that said: "Happy Ash Wednesday." I wonder why?

But even in the midst of all of that... Let us recognize with gratitude that Ash Wednesday is leading us on a good journey to a good place and towards a good and loving God. That little smudge isn't just a dirty spot on the forehead... the sign of the cross is made. The ashes speak of loss and grief and brokenness... but the cross speaks of hope and of grace and of the plan of God to bring us back to Himself. We are starting a journey and Christ is taking us by the hand. The way of the cross leads home, as a beautiful old hymn has said... but the way of the cross is also the way of grief and repentance... the way of the cross is the way of self denial... the way of the cross is marked with ashes.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Ryan Edgecombe
Broadwell Christian Church
Central Presbyterian Church - Petersburg

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