Ashes on the forehead mark the beginning of Lent. Many Christian people will wear these ashes as a sign of self-examination, repentance, and reflective listening to God for growth in grace. Some, no doubt, will wear those ashes as a badge, a statement of pride in pain.
But the heart of Lent is not pain.
The heart of Lent is not self-congratulation about just how much you love Jesus because you give up chocolate or whiskey or peanut butter or even unkind words. The heart of Lent is not even repentance of sin and its accouterments in your life. The heart of Lent can be seen in Jesus’ sufferings, in why Jesus did His thing on this earth and does His thing still in bringing humankind to life.
Why did the Spirit drive Jesus into the wilderness to wander with wild beasts and there to be tempted by Satan (Mk. 1:12,13)? Why did Jesus suffer? Why wear ashes if that is part of your Lenten worship? What, in other words, is the heart of Lent? And what would a Lenten heart look like?
Jesus did what He did with the coyotes and rattlesnakes, He did what He did under the barbed wire whip and the nails, the thorns sticking through the thin flesh of His scalp to pierce the bone of His skull, Jesus suffocated to death as He hung naked til His weight could no longer be pulled up by nailed hands enough to breathe, Jesus came and taught and suffered and was done to death in the way He was for one reason. Jesus endured the crumbling of the mountain of God’s might and took on the weakness of wilderness temptation and wounds grave enough that you just might begin to get the picture if you had your teeth knocked out by a hammer and broken legs twisted like rope, all without a drop of anesthesia. Jesus did all that for one reason.
One reason only.
He loved you...He loves you still...Jesus loved me... and Jesus loves me still, this I know, for the Bible tells me so (John 3:16). God is, simply, love (1 John 4:8). Love is who Jesus was and is; love was and is the prime mover of Lent. God was and is in Lent loving you and me into life.
That is the heart of Lent.
And a Lenten heart is not a heart proud of pain. A Lenten heart is a heart filled with the love of Jesus, is growing toward being filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19).
So let’s wear the ashes. But for one reason only, because we’re seeking to wear the love.
In a Lenten heart.