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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Wednesday, February 17

The Lord is merciful and gracious,slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
—Psalm 103:8

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the gateway to Lent, the day on which many of us Christians go to church to be anointed with thick black smudges of ash on our foreheads. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the most sobering days of the Christian year, but while on Good Friday we contemplate the crucifixion and passion of Jesus, today we contemplate our sins and shortcomings. It is important to remember that we contemplate our sins, not those of others.

This is a serious and sobering day, but I believe it is a good and hopeful one. We all have shadow sides to our personalities; we all fall far short of Jesus’ commandment to love others as we love ourselves; we all have done things we ought not to have done, and left undone things that we ought to have done. To confess these things to ourselves and to God, in the presence of others who are doing the same, is a remarkable experience.

I think we all leave church with a sense of renewal, even refreshment.

We are renewed and refreshed because we are in the presence of God who, as the psalmist says, "is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love." This does not exclude divine judgment, but it does assure us of forgiveness and mercy when we admit that we have gone astray.

The dark cross of ashes pressed into our foreheads also reminds us that "we are dust and to dust we shall return." Yet, because of a merciful and gracious God whose love never fails us, when we become dust, we will not be alone. Death is not the last word. We go to a God who loves us dearly, sins and all.

Most holy and merciful God, we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed. Forgive us, we pray, and accept our repentance. Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2007.