Ash Wednesday doesn't feel very happy.
Last night, at our Ash Wednesday service, the mood was somber. The church was quiet. The organ was subdued. The Bible readings were tough to swallow. The liturgy forced us to think about our failures. Our voices joined together to say, "Lord, we are sinners."
The whole setting forced my soul to be faced with the many failures I have had over the past months. To top it off, there was a technical difficulty in the middle of the service that only attacked my conscience all the more. It was really a quite uncomfortable feeling.
Contrast that with this morning. I just finished the First Lesson in the Lenten Bible reading plan. It was Matthew 21:1-11 and...well...the mood of this reading is a little different.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”' 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the
5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the
trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
At first glance, the mood of Palm Sunday seems diametrically opposed to the mood of Ash Wednesday. Shouts of hosanna. Singing. Palm branches of praise. Excitement and joy that the king is here. How could I feel that excitement and joy after a night of confession and internal repentance?
Because Ash Wednesday finds its joy in Palm Sunday. Yes, we are sinners. Yes, we can't get ourselves out of this sin. Yes, we are in danger of sin ruling over us forever.
But then, our King. He is gentle. He is loving. He has come to rescue us from sin and bring us to eternal life.
And that's exactly why Ash Wednesday is really happy.
The confession ended with the promise of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. The devotional message pointed us to God's complete work of redemption. The last hymn spoke the truth of faith: "I Lay My Sins on Jesus, the Spotless Lamb of God." The final words came from our King (and they were words of blessing NOT condemnation.)
As you start your Lenten journey, remember who your King is and where he is heading. Remember that he came to save you. Remember that, though you will learn about your own sins, you will also learn about your own Savior.
There's nothing happier.