Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
One of the things that I love about our Lutheran teachings is the emphasis on both Law and Gospel without sacrificing one for the other. I remember one college course that spent weeks on this particular topic, teaching us how vital it is to know when to apply which and never to confuse one with the other.
I appreciate how Ash Wednesday is such a beautiful and important reminder of both aspects of our relationship with God.
The Law of Ash Wednesday: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19 This was spoken to Adam as a consequence for the fall into sin. It is a staggering reminder of our unworthiness when we stand before God. We are made from dust, we are temporary, we are dirty, and stained by the sin of the world. On our own we are nothing and we will return to nothing. The ashes we receive are a reminder of this dirt and grime and unworthiness. They are in the shape of a cross to remind us of our sin holding Christ to the cross. It was our guilt that condemned Him, and held Him there.
That shape also reminds us of God’s great promise for us.
The Gospel of Ash Wednesday: Just a few verses earlier we heard a great and wonderful promise from our Heavenly Father: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” God shows us His plan to save us from the moment of the fall: Jesus. Those ashes that we receive are in the shape of the cross to remind us of God’s fulfilled plan to make us righteous. We now receive the same sign that we received in our Baptism to show us that we are washed clean with the blood of Christ. We are made new through Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored and able to once again stand before God. We are worthy, not through our own actions, but through the work of Christ for us.
We need a proper understanding of both Law and Gospel in our lives. The Gospel is what changes our hearts. Through the Gospel, we have hope in Christ of eternity with God. Through the Gospel, we learn what Christ has done for us, not because of our worth, but because of His great love for us. The law shows us just how much we need our Savior, and without the law Christ’s great love and great sacrifice are meaningless!
Part of the design of our worship as the body of Christ is to show us both Law and Gospel again and again and again as we come together. We have the promises of the Gospel to bring hope during difficult seasons. This life is not the end for us, we have far greater promises laid up for us through faith, and in the end, it’s all going to be okay (in fact, it will be much better than just okay)! When we come together with the body of Christ we share in the joy of the Gospel and we can support and encourage one another in faith with the promises of God. We also gain from the accountability of the law when we come together as the body of Christ. The law gives us our marching orders as we go forth into the world.
We are entering into the season of Lent, which is a time to re-focus. I think it is very fitting that the theme this year is “Return to the Lord”. It IS time to return! Satan has been having a lot of fun this year attacking us in so many ways, but God is still at work in His church!
We are very thankful for the technology that allows us to stay connected when we need to keep some distance, but we also know that this is not how worship is supposed to be. We have been working very hard to find the balance between safe distance and quality connection and worship for our in-person worship services. We invite you to come back! If you have been choosing to participate in other activities, it’s time to return to worship. Live-streaming worship is an incredible blessing, but it is easy for Satan to distract you and to distance you from your church family. If you are still worshiping online due to health concerns, please use this season as an opportunity to re-focus. Make sure there are no distractions, take some time to prepare yourself for worship, and take some time to reach out to the Christian brothers and sisters that you used to see when you walked into our building. God has called each of you to this place and to this Christian community for a reason, and we cannot let Satan win this one!
So, I invite you, Return to the Lord with me! We have all strayed. We have all fallen short. We have all given into the fear and distractions of this world. We are all dust and to dust we shall all return.
Our God is the King of the Universe, and He calls us to Him. Through Christ, we are redeemed and restored. We are God’s beloved children and he has set us apart from this sinful world.
Your Sister in Christ,
Tara Darling, DCE