Fasting and bodily preparation are fine outward training. Of course, it isn’t commanded, but it trains us and points us to the giver of all good things. It is a personal thing for you and for God. It isn’t for the world to know about, for our friends to commiserate or rejoice over for brownie points or status or popularity. It isn’t something to boast over. Just do it for training, do it in secret, and you will be rewarded by the God who dwells in secret things. We can’t boast in things, in our works, in our world. Moths and rust will destroy these things. Boasting in our popularity or our ability to give up chocolate or soda or anything else will only separate us from the God who redeemed us from death and the devil.
What you did today is not fasting. You marked your heads with ashes because you are the people that will die. There are those who would ridicule you for marking your foreheads with ash while reading Jesus’ words: Do not disfigure your face… But Jesus is talking about fasting, and fasting for the sake of popularity, fasting in public. The imposition of Ashes is not fasting. It isn’t concerned with popularity, but with reminding you and me that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are the people of Adam’s curse. For by one man, sin entered into the world and that sin was given you in your conception. It is the same reminder that God gave to Adam in the garden and the same reminder that Saint Paul gives us when he says, “all have sinned and have fallen short of the kingdom of God.” Ashes are not the medium of fasting, but the sign of mourning and sadness. They are the mark of the mortal.
Don’t be fooled by a world that would convince you there is no need to mourn. The world is not interested in weeping. We are not of this world. We are the people of the Crucified one. And that means that we acknowledge that death is not how it was meant to be. It is not an escape, it is a punishment. Our sin has done this. Man has perverted what was God’s perfect gift of life and now we suffer and we die. We weep and we mourn. We grieve and know that this isn’t right. And to grieve is okay. Death isn’t the way it was meant to be. To suffer isn’t how we were created. We grieve and will continue to grieve because we acknowledge that we are sinners in need of a savior. We are sinners that can’t save ourselves. We grieve because our loved ones aren’t supposed to be separated from us. But we grieve and we endure suffering because we have hope. Hope in the Christ who has conquered death and has suffered on our behalf.
You mourn with ash upon your forehead, but not just a dot or a swipe. We mourn with a cross on our forehead. Usually you don’t see it, but it’s there everyday. Usually it is forgotten and looked over. But today, we see it. We see what God has place upon your head. We see what infuriates the devil. Today, the Lord makes known again, what he showed the world at your baptism: you are a child of God. For in your baptism, Christ has clothed you in his righteousness. The death he died on the cross is your death and the life he lives is your life. So it is today that we remember our baptism. Today we remember and we see the cross of Christ. Jesus has died and rose again. He did it so that you would not be separated from him, but that you would have all things, even the treasures of heaven.
So a cross, to mark us as the mortals that have been wrapped in immortality: The immortal mortals. A cross on your forehead… put there when you were baptized, seen again today, declaring you the people of the cross… the ones that suffer with Jesus, for the ones that suffer with Jesus are the ones that live with him forever. Thus our lenten fast begins… in penitence and preparation, we set our eyes on Jesus and his cross. He sets his death before us again today and our eyes and our ears and our mouths behold his glory, the salvation of God has been given to us.