Rev. Mark Buetow
Consider for a moment the ashes smeared on your head. Or if you don’t have ashes at least look around at someone that has them and think about the ashes for a minute. And understand this: everything that you love, everyone that you love, everything that is a treasure to you is going to end up like that: ashes, dust, gone. All the boardgames I love to play, all the sporting equipment you have, all the video games that you play, all the cell phones we use, all of the money we carry around or wish we carried around, and yes, even the people we love and even ourselves—we’re all going to be ashes. Dirt. Dust. Nothing. That’s why Jesus says not to store up these treasures on earth. Because that’s how they end up. They are great while we’ve got them and we’ll spare no expense to grab them up and hoard them. But in the end, just like us, they turn to ashes.
Now consider for another moment those same ashes. They are smeared into your forehead in the shape of the cross. That’s because when you were baptized, you were marked with the sign of the holy cross on your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. Your baptism is God’s own promise to you that because His Son was covered in your sins, you have a treasure that does not turn to ashes. What is that treasure? Forgiveness of your sins and eternal life! That water and word that was put on you is what rescues you from being ashes. Oh, sure, unless our Lord returns first, you’ll get put in the ground the same as everyone else, but your baptism is the Lord’s promise that because Christ has conquered sin and death and risen again, you will be raised up on the Last Day.
The reason that Lent focuses so much on the suffering and death of Jesus is so that we poor sinners learn what our true treasure is. The preaching of the cross is given to rescue us from all those things that we love so much not because they aren’t our gifts to enjoy, but because we always want to love them more than the Lord and His Word. The reason that fasting and alms giving and prayer are the traditional works of Lent is not because we need to be taught that our money and our toys are bad but because we need to learn that our money and our toys are not the true treasure; they are not the most important things our heavenly Father has for us. Rather, the treasure in heaven, the treasure that does not turn to ashes, is Christ Himself and His salvation. Jesus can’t ever turn to ashes. Ashes are the reminder of death and what happens when we die. But when Christ died for our sins, He did not turn to ashes but instead rose the third day and threw down sin, death, the devil and hell. He threw down those enemies that make us into ashes! He threw down their power to keep us forever as piles of dust! By His rising from the dead, Christ shows that He is a treasure that doesn’t get stolen or eaten by moths or that rusts away or rots into dust and ashes. He is our everlasting and ever living Savior who brings us with Him by His Word to the realms of glory and eternal life!
It’s OK if you want to give something up for Lent. But do it for the right reason: do it because you’re reminding yourself that such a thing is not true treasure, that it won’t last forever. But more than that, the real way to celebrate Lent is to have more Jesus. More of the true treasure! More hearing His Word. More confessing your sins and being absolved. More eating and drinking of His body and blood. More study of His Word and prayer. More of the true treasure. It is by those gifts that Christ piles up for you such riches that you cannot even imagine! Today there are two crosses on your forehead to consider: the cross of ashes and the cross of water and the Word of your baptism. The cross of ashes reminds you why you need the cross of Christ but it is the cross of Christ, put upon you at the holy font which rescues you from a future of ashes and gives you the promise of a future of life and joy and peace in Jesus Christ because by His cross your sins are forgiven and you are set with Him in the heavenly places where the true treasure lasts forever. Happy Lent in the Name of Jesus! Amen.