Ash Wednesday and the Assurance of Grace

(Written last night)

I am so struck by the grace of God tonight.

It’s been four years since I celebrated Ash Wednesday. When I left the Catholic Church, I shied away from nearly all of those familiar observances, unsure anymore what I believed about them. But tonight Washington Church had an Ash Wednesday service with three other area churches and I went. So now I have that familiar gray smudge on my forehead, but I was struck by the stark difference between this Ash Wednesday and all the Ash Wednesday of my past. And the reality of the grace of the cross in my life is that difference. It changes everything about how I view repentance.

In the past, I saw Ash Wednesday – and all of Lent, really – as a season to recognize my sinfulness and to get on my knees and beg for forgiveness from God. I knelt and prayed and fasted, and wondered if it was enough to make up for my sins, enough to turn God’s mercy toward me.

After all, our sin is a serious thing, especially in light of God’s immense holiness. The Old Testament is full of references to the holiness of God and all the precautions and ceremonies the Israelites had to go through before entering the presence of God because of His perfect holiness. There are even stories of people struck dead because they entered the presence of God unworthily. I never knew much about all that, though; I just had a sense that God was vast and distant and that I could only hope to ever work my way to being good enough for Him. It made sense that we should have to beg and do penance and hope that He might hear us and grant us grace.

But we don’t have to.

Because of the cross, we don’t have to grovel or beg or wonder if it will be enough to appease our Most Holy God. Even in our sin and weakness, even in our brokenness and filth, we don’t have to wonder if God will accept us back. We don’t have to wonder if we’ve done enough. God sent His only Son to die on a cross and take the full weight of our just punishment on His own shoulders. He took it upon Himself to cleanse us, to wash away the scarlet stain of sin and make us whiter than snow. And He said, “It is finished.” It is enough. He is enough.

Yes, we’re still sinful and need to repent. Yes, we turn away and have to turn back and rely on the favor and grace of our Savior. But when we repent and ask for forgiveness, we don’t have to hold our breath and question whether it will be enough. When we fall at His feet, full of the weight of our failures and filth, we don’t have to wonder if we’ve earned back His love. Instead we are confident of His everlasting love and mercy towards us. We know that at His feet we will receive the gentle touch of His hand, washing us again, lifting us back on our feet. We are assured that He is always enough.

So tonight I bear that familiar mark, but it means something different to me now. I wear it as a sign of my mourning over my sins, for the ways that I’ve fallen short of what God deserves. But at the same time, I wear it as a sign of my joy, my redemption, my assurance that the door of God’s grace and forgiveness is always open to me. Tonight I asked for mercy and forgiveness – as I’ve had to many times before – but I also celebrated by singing about the cross, even singing “Hallelujah!” because “before the throne of God above/ I have a strong, a perfect plea:/ A great High Priest, whose name is Love,/ Who ever lives and pleads for me.”

Before the Throne of God – Shane and Shane

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on his hands,
My name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heaven he stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see him there
Who made an end of all my sin.

Because a sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Praise the One,
Risen Son of God!

Behold him there, the risen Lamb
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I am,
The King of glory and of grace!

One in himself, I cannot die
My soul is purchased by his blood
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God
With Christ, my Savior and my God

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  1. Kelly

     /  February 18, 2010

    I love, love, love that song!! Been one of my favorites for years!! :)

  2. Amen. What a wonderful testimony.


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