Making room for God
James, the brother of Jesus, watched and learned as he saw his brother, the God of the universe in a human body, humble Himself and show our world what true power and greatness does: it gives itself away. This is why he tells his readers, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (Jas. 4.10). I wonder why God chose to do it this way. And why does God ask us to lower ourselves in order to lift us up?
When we give ourselves away, we make room for God to dwell within us, and when we make room for God to dwell, we will be confronted by evil. This is what happened to Jesus when tempted in the desert, and it’s what happens to us when we give more of ourselves to the Lord. Humility is not an easy road.
Despite the challenge, the Christian liturgical calendar takes special note of Christ’s humility and our need for imitating it through the Ash Wednesday service. The purpose of this gathering is the celebration of humility. The ancient church would place ashes on the forehead of believers in order to echo the creation language of Genesis 3:19: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
This service will offers meditation on humility as we mourn our sin and repent to the living God. At the end of the service we will have people come forward and receive ashes on their forehead in the shape of a cross. Like Christ, we too walk through this world as God’s children; in Christ’s likeness we humble ourselves before the Lord our God. Ash Wednesday celebrates Jesus as he begins a forty day period of enduring temptation by Satan in the wilderness. Unlike the society in which we live, the Kingdom of God is very different; it is upside down. The way of greatness is humility, the first shall be last, the greatest among you is your servant, the poor are rich and the rich are poor. It’s confusing because the Kingdom of God is paradoxical. To be great in God’s house is to be a servant; he shows us this through the life of Christ.
The church follows the life of Christ by humbling itself in anticipation of Easter, where God will make a way for humankind to be forever reconciled to its Creator.
Yes, we are dust, but we are dust that has been formed into beautiful living creatures that have sinned but are not beyond God’s loving grasp of salvation. We do not deserve his kindness, and we cannot make ourselves good enough to be worthy of his favor. This is why we humbly repent in ashes.