Reflection on the Gospel of Matthew 6: 1-6,16-21 and Ash Wednesday February 22, 2023

The Gospel of Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Let us Pray: The collect for Ash Wednesday                                              

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

In continuation of the Gospel of Matthew 17:1-9 from Transfiguration Sunday, we look at change in our lives as we start the Season of Lent. The season to ask ourselves where are we in our journey with Jesus? Is this a time when I can truly look at myself and say, I need to change? The transfiguration changed the three disciples that went up on that mountain with Jesus. It made them look into their lives and try to understand how they were going to handle the changes that Jesus had told them were coming. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of that journey for each of us. A time of preparation self- examination, and change. This passage enjoins us to humble acts of righteousness and a heavenward focus that are befitting of Christians preparing to enter the Lenten season. Our attitudes should not be those of self-seeking hypocrites but should reflect a heart focused on the kingdom of heaven. It deals with the practice of three kinds of religious acts: charitable giving, praying, and fasting. The point is the same when applied to each of them: These are not to be done in a way that attracts attention to oneself, or God will not reward them. The message is straightforward enough, but each part presents its own challenge when applied to life today.

Let’s think about the significance of Ash Wednesday and reflect upon it.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

 The ashes we are going to use are made from the Palms of previous year’s Palm Sunday branches.  It is also significant that we use palm branches to make these ashes because  palms are a symbol of victory. By making the ashes from the palms of Palm Sunday we are reminded of how all our victories are but ashes before the glory of God

Where did this strange tradition come from of putting ash on our foreheads this day and what does it mean? First of all, these ashes are a reminder of who we are. The Bible tells us that we came from the dust and to the dust we shall return. The first human was formed out of the dust of the earth by God and then God breathed life into that dust. That is a powerful image. One that is meant to remind us that without the breath or Spirit of God moving in us, we are just like these ashes: lifeless – worthless. These ashes are also a sign of repentance. Lent is a time of mourning for our sins. It is a time when we are called to repent and change our ways. In biblical times it was common for people who were mourning to dress in sackcloth and put ashes on their heads. it was not the practice itself that was critiqued, but rather the goal of the practitioner to be noticed by his or her peers. This desire to be seen, to receive the approval and affirmation of those nearby, is what defiles an otherwise holy act. We instead put the ashes on our foreheads to show that we are marked as Christ’s own through our Baptism. These ashes also point us back to Jesus Christ. They remind us of the dusty roads he walked upon as he brought the Good News to all people and of that last road he walked through Jerusalem, where he suffered rejection, trial, and death on the cross. They not only remind us of Jesus’ route on Good Friday they also remind us of how far we lag behind in our attempts to follow him We are also reminded of the events of Holy Week – and of how the victory of Jesus over sin was won for us on Good Friday. The ashes remind us that Christ went on ahead of us – and still goes on ahead of us. They summon us to follow him and to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, to stick with him when he is arrested, and to claim him when we are asked with Peter, “Are you not a follower of that Man Jesus?” When the match is put to the dry palms, they flare up quickly, and just as quickly die into ash. For a moment they are light and heat and power, and in the next moment they are changed into lifeless ash. The power and light dim as quickly as did the shouts of the crowds as Jesus entered Jerusalem, the shouts that changed so quickly from “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” to “Crucify him!”

The lifeless ashes remind us how much of our own discipleship may amount to the same thing – a flash in the pan, a parade on a spring day, but nothing permanent, and nothing lasting. So, as you begin your Lenten Journey don’t be like the flash of the dry palms, but work to make your journey one that will last not just through Lent, but through the rest of your life. And as we leave, will we all walk away with something, other than just a smudge on our foreheads, hopefully a better understanding what it means to be marked as Christ’s own. Take time to appreciate life and to understand your mortality on earth and look forward to everlasting life in Christ.

Let us pray. Lent is a special time to reaffirm our commitment to Christ and to prepare ourselves for that glorious day of the resurrection. To learn to walk with Christ and to thank Him for the sacrifice he made for us. And accept the grace and forgiveness that marks you as a redeemed child of God.    Amen

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