Lenten Devotional (Day 1) - Ash Wednesday
Updated: Feb 24
Wednesday, February 17 - Scripture: Mark 1:1-13
Growing up, the season of Lent and Ash Wednesday weren’t intentionally practiced in our family and faith community. Such events and activities were seen as primarily Roman Catholic observances, which, as with all things related to Catholicism was to be viewed with suspicion and skepticism.
In recent years, however, I have come to see the beauty and value in embracing and observing the rhythms of the Christian calendar which go back as far as the apostolic age of the first century.
Today is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the season of Lent (meaning spring in old English), a period of 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter.
Although in popular culture Lent is synonymous with giving something up (like chocolate or social media) for the duration of the 40 days, in actuality Lent is the holy season where we intentionally retrace the steps of Jesus as he journeyed under the shadow of the cross toward the climatic events of death, burial and resurrection.
Lent is a time to seriously meditate on Jesus’ journey to the cross, and Ash Wednesday is a day to reflect on our own mortality and frailty (echoing the words of Genesis 3:19 Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.)
As we begin the season of Lent and our journey through the Gospel of Mark, it might be easy to bypass Mark’s purposeful and deeply subversive opening statement, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
This is surely more than a mere title statement, but rather would have been read by first century listeners as an unsettling and traitorous remark given the mantra of the ruling Roman Empire at the time, “there is no God but Caesar”. Early archaeological records have even discovered a calendar from 9BC with the inscription, “the birthday of the god Augustus Caesar, has been for the whole world the beginning of the good news concerning him, therefore let a new era begin from his birth”.
In a world ruled by the power and might of the Roman Empire led by a ruler deemed a “god”, the Gospel (good news) of Mark begins by giving to Jesus, the title “Son of God”. In the rest of our journey through Lent and Mark’s Gospel we will see how radically different and subversive Jesus’ life and kingdom are in contrast to the Roman Empire and all subsequent kingdoms of the world. His is a kingdom marked by love and mercy for the downtrodden and marginalized, as well as vulnerability and meekness, not as character defects and signs of weakness, but rather signs of the inbreaking and upside down kingdom of God revealed fully in the incarnation of Jesus.
Mark bypasses the birth narrative and childhood of Jesus, beginning instead recounting the baptism of Jesus—an event in which Jesus shows God standing in solidarity with humanity while reminded us that the most important title we carry is that of “Beloved sons and daughters of God”
While Ash Wednesday is a day where countless many will be marked by ashes in the sign of the cross upon the forehead, may we be reminded today and throughout this Lenten journey that we have forever been marked by God as revealed in the incarnation of Jesus.
Let us all commit to taking this journey of Lent together as we reflect afresh on the love and passion of God in Christ and our identities as beloved sons & daughters which frees us from hiding our anxieties, insecurities, faults and flaws (which for many of us, may be heightened in this ongoing pandemic) to live lives of unhindered love beauty and vulnerability. In doing so we declare in our words and demeanour that “Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not”.