I had baptized 4-year-old Sarah and her brother some months before and was visiting the family to see how things were going. “Has Sarah mentioned anything about the experience?” I asked her mother.
“Oh, yes,” she answered. “She said the pastor made a cross on her forehead. I told her, ‘But you can’t see it now.’
“‘But God can,’ replied Sarah.”
When the ashes of Ash Wednesday welcome us into the disciplines of Lent and Christian life, we begin that 40-day journey of repentance and renewal confident that, indeed, “God can.” God can bring life out of death. God can join water and word, bread and wine, repentance and forgiveness, and cross and community to fashion a new beginning and a new people in Christ. God can renew and reform and revive my life because of Jesus.
The sign of the cross we share marks us as one body witnessing to God’s gracious presence. We bear the sign of our baptism as we receive those ashes. We enter the baptismal life of daily repentance, as Martin Luther reminded the church in the first of those famous 95 Theses: “When our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he meant the whole life of the believer to be one of repentance.”
Lent begins with that invitation to renewed repentance, to submit once more to what only God can do with sinners: turn them into saints. Lent has historically been the time of baptismal preparation—baptism celebrated as the sun rose on Easter morn, baptism into the Risen Lord for a daily journey of faith, hope and love.
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers