Lenten Devotional 2024 –

Group 1: Ash Wednesday

Designated Readings for Ash Wednesday:

Psalm 51:1-13
Joel 2:12-19
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:2 (beginning with We beseech you)
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Collect (Prayer of the Day):

Almighty and everliving God, you hate nothing you have made and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may obtain from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

An Introduction to Ash Wednesday by Seth Wilson:

Imagine standing in a serene chapel, a gentle hush filling the air as a season of deep reflection begins. This is Ash Wednesday, not just a date on the Christian calendar, but a heartfelt invitation to embark on a journey of humility, repentance, and renewal. Have you ever felt the need for a profound pause in your life to reflect and reassess? That’s the essence of Ash Wednesday–a powerful commencement of a period that echoes human mortality and the need for repentance.

Ash Wednesday’s roots delve deep into Christian history, intertwining with ancient Jewish customs of mourning and repentance. The symbolic use of ashes, as mentioned in Biblical texts like Genesis 3:19, forms the cornerstone of this tradition. Picture Mordecai, clad in sackcloth and ashes, mourning in the streets (Esther 4:1), or envision Job, sitting among ashes in a state of profound grief (Job 2:8). These poignant images paint a vivid picture of the custom’s depth and its adoption by the early church as a public mark of repentance.

The heart of Ash Wednesday lies in a unique ritual: the application of ashes, often from the burnt remains of Palm Sunday’s palms, on believers’ foreheads. Close your eyes and imagine the gentle touch of the minister marking a cross on your forehead, a powerful symbol of mortality and a call to repentance. This act, steeped in symbolism, is a stark reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice and the Christian journey towards reconciliation with God, encapsulated in the phrase, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.”

Ash Wednesday ushers in Lent, a 40-day period leading up to Easter, mirroring Jesus’ sacrifice and time in the desert. Each Christian denomination brings its unique perspective to this observance, some emphasizing fasting, while others focus on acts of charity. This season is not just about personal introspection; it’s a communal journey towards the joyous celebration of Easter. It’s a time when we, as a community, collectively delve into our beliefs, practices, and the essence of our faith.

As we approach Ash Wednesday, it becomes a pivotal time for self-reflection. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge our mortality and our need for repentance. The ashes remind us of life’s transient nature yet also of the gift of eternal life offered through Jesus. This day calls us to introspect and seek reconciliation. It’s a time to ponder: Where in my life do I need to seek forgiveness and grow? Ash Wednesday is not just a ritual; it’s a starting point for a journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth, preparing us for the Lenten season.

In essence, Ash Wednesday is more than a day of rituals; it’s a doorway to a meaningful journey. It’s a time for each of us to pause, reflect, and prepare our hearts for the journey of Lent. As we wear the ashes, we carry a powerful symbol of our humanity and a reminder of our spiritual quest. Let this Ash Wednesday be a moment of profound personal and communal introspection, setting the stage for a transformative Lenten season.

Encouraging Devotional by Jacob Carpenter:

In this Ash Wednesday reading, we get an opportunity to read the wise works of David. Psalms 51:1-13 is David’s cry out to God after recently sinning with Bathsheba, showing us how we are supposed to repent so that we may be restored. This theme of repentance is visible throughout the passage and encourages and teaches the reader in several ways: David writes, “Have mercy on me, O God…” (v.1). His lament in this verse is him asking for mercy and confessing his sin. He then continues, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (v.3). This statement is important because it shows how David is not ignoring his sin or making something less of it. Instead, David humbles himself before the Lord, acknowledging his sin and asking for mercy. This shows us that acknowledgement is the first step in truly repenting and having the opportunity to be restored in Christ. 

In order to gain mercy and to be restored to God, we must admit that we are sinners and that we need Him to cleanse and redeem us. This dependence on God is crucial to repentance, restoration, and Ash Wednesday itself. The reminder that we are mortal and that God is in control of our lives is a key theme of Ash Wednesday, as we recognize that God has all the power and we need to be entirely dependent on Him. The realization that we have sinned against the Lord and that we are deserving of death is incredibly humbling, forcing us to rely on God for forgiveness, just as David teaches us in Psalm 51.

But after we ask for mercy, we are taught to ask for restoration as well. This idea clearly shows us that the point of repentance is being restored. We see this idea here, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (v.10). This idea of being renewed is crucial as we Christians are given new life in Christ Jesus. The message that David reveals to us in this Psalm is that after we receive mercy, we should not continue to live in our sinful ways but rather be restored and live in the new life that Christ has given us. Overall, Psalm 51:1-13 teaches us first to recognize our sin, and then repent in response. Then after we repent, we are called to live in the new life Christ has given us so that we may be restored in Christ, through Him.

Encouraging Devotional by Connor Starnes:

Lent is a time of seeing what Christ has done for us. Some of the main themes of Lent are being brought from slavery to freedom and from a state of mortality to one of immortality. These are the themes present in this week’s lectionary, a set of 4 readings: an Old Testament reading, a psalm, a Gospel passage, and a passage from an Epistle. Joel 2:12 says, “Return to me with all your heart.” Although Israel is seemingly turning away from, disobeying, and ignoring God, He still calls them to return to Him. Likewise, even in our sinful, broken state, when we are in slavery to our sin, God calls us to return to Him. However, there is no way to get out of where we are by ourselves. We need someone to come, take our place, and take our punishment, so that we can be reconciled to God, allowing us to walk into freedom. 

Thankfully, according to 2 Corinthians 5:21, Christ became “sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus Christ’s death has atoned for our sins. We have been brought out of slavery to live in freedom; we have moved from living in a state of mortality to now immortality—all because the One who had complete freedom became enslaved to a body, who had complete immortality became mortal, and who “knew no sin” became sin. 

So then, we should not, as Paul teaches us, “receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). In other words, do not receive God’s grace and go back to the sin and brokenness we had before Him. Do not go back into the slavery with which sin held us. Instead, we should do all things for the glory of Christ, with a sincere heart so that our “Father who sees in secret will reward [us]” (Matthew 6:4b). The effect of Christ’s sacrifice should be the sole reason we want to serve Him, giving Him back what He has given us. We should not be motivated by outward expression and what others may think about us. Instead, we should live for Christ, and for Him alone.

Another effect Christ’s sacrifice has on our lives is that we should “teach transgressors [His] ways” (Psalm 51:13). This proclamation of God is what David vows to do upon the restoration of the joy of God’s salvation. Likewise, God’s salvation toward us should lead us to teach sinners the ways of God as well. Remember that Jesus has brought us from sin to righteousness, from slavery to freedom, and from mortality to immortality because He became the things that He freed us from. As a result of this, we should live righteously for Him alone and spread the ways of God.

Come Exodus with Us by Brinton Loftis

Come Exodus with us, by participating in Lent practically. The Lenten season is not just a time to repent but also be mindful of our mortality, thus we challenge you to do something difficult in your faith to grow and be uplifted with encouragement and truth. If you haven’t practiced Lent or don’t know much about it, Lent lasts from today, Ash Wednesday, to Easter. That’s 40 weekdays, Sundays aren’t part of Lent. There are three main practices in Lent: fasting, alms, and prayer. This part of the church calendar year is designed as a test, to prepare for the next part of the church calendar, which is the Easter season of feasting and celebration. 

Typically, fasting is seen as completely going without food and only drinking water for a period of time. This is what Jesus did in the desert for 40 days. However, fasting can also look like abstaining from many other things beyond food. Alms is giving to the poor. Because your eyes have been opened to the needs of those without, through fasting we can better have eyes to see the needy around us. Going beyond your own needs and looking out for others. Both of these actions have a theme of self denial. Lastly, prayer makes these actions worthwhile. Through our fasting and giving we build a relationship with God through prayer. Anytime you feel a desire for the thing you’re giving up, going to God is the first step to denying yourself and following him. 

Now how can we do this today, physically, in our lives. One big thing in our world today is distraction. Distraction comes up in things like social media, sports, and friendships. It is difficult to live in our fast paced world and still slow down and be with God. Lent is the perfect time to see this in your life and make a change. We challenge you today, on the first day of Lent, to make a decision to live without distractions and give something up. When we are met with temptation or desire for that thing, we must lean in closer to Christ in prayer.