As we prepare our worship set lists for the coming weeks and our attention turns to Easter, Ash Wednesday can be unfamiliar territory for us and can be easily overlooked. Of course, not every Christian tradition observes Ash Wednesday, but as worship leaders it is to our advantage to be aware that many around the world will be participating in it as the season of Lent begins, and consider how we can utilize the season to lead our congregations deeper in worship.
Ash Wednesday is not mentioned in Scripture nor given as an ordinance, but it does serve as a tangible reminder to us of who Christ is, and the great lengths to which He went to forgive our sin.
In the late Middle Ages, Anglo-Saxon (English) abbot Aelfric the Grammarian wrote, “We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins”.
First of all, my lyricist brain absolutely loves any guy who has been known for centuries as “The Grammarian”. Secondly, I think “The Grammarian” makes a great point that we less grammatical ones would be wise to give notice to.
II Corinthians 8:9 reads, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
When we reflect on the sin we were saved from, we naturally also reflect on the Savior who became “sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21). We recall a Savior who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, and being born in the likeness of men. And being in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phillippians 2:7-8).
Whether or not we physically observe the practice of Ash Wednesday, we do well to recall that God looks not at our outward expressions of worship, but our inner motives, and His call is to “rend your heart and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love; and relenting over disaster” (Joel 2:13).
Jesus hammers this home by saying “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
With that statement, Jesus just took away our ability to be repentant but one season of the year.
In essence, Jesus just made everyday Ash Wednesday.
Every day has become an opportunity to take up our cross and consider the blessing of leading in worship.
Every day has become a new opportunity to devote our time and talent to a God who so dearly loves us, and that should never allow us to grow complacent in worship.
Every day has become a chance to sit in figurative ashes for a moment and consider what great love has been lavished upon us, that we might be called His children.
Our calling is not merely to put together another set list, to learn the chords of the latest hot praise song, or to ‘get through’ another Sunday. The worship we lead is ultimately not about those things, and it never was or will be.
Every day we are called to do exponentially more than that.
A life of worship was promised to be fulfilling, but it was never promised to be easy.
The point is that we should take a moment not just today, not just in a season, but daily, to spend a moment seated in ashes as we prepare to lead. In that moment we lay down our pride, take up our cross, and then rejoice in following the One who has conquered sin and death so that we might have life more abundantly.
There’s far too much at stake for us not to.
Jason Soroski serves as a worship pastor at Parkway Fellowship in Katy, TX. When not strumming his guitar or composing at his computer, he can usually be found out on a crazy adventure with his beautiful wife Jana and their five amazing children. Connect on Twitter @soroski.