Lent, of course, began on Ash Wednesday. We received ashes that have faded or were washed away, but we remain marked people. And we carry our mark across this holy season, a time of deeper reflection and coming to terms with who we really are.
The ashes clearly mark us as mortal creatures, people who will one day die. Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you will return. That is a sobering reality. We receive life on this earth as a gift. It is limited and comes to an end. We must take our lives seriously as we strive to live as God wants us to live.
The ashes also mark us as sinners because of what we have done and what we have failed to do. Throughout the Old Testament, we hear of people who honestly confess their sinfulness and want to return to the Lord. They impose ashes on their heads. They mark themselves as a sign of their penitence. We have heard the appeal: Repent and believe in the Gospel.
Finally—and most importantly—ashes mark us with the mercy of God. Beyond our mortal frailty and even beyond our stubborn sinfulness, God marks us with his mercy. And that makes all the difference. The mercy of God takes our mortality and transforms it with the gift of eternal life. The mercy of God also takes our sinfulness and through forgiveness gives us his grace, a share in the very life of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We are indeed marked people. To say this names who we are: people subject to death, weighed down by sin, but—by God’s gift—raised up to forgiveness and new life. And now, we have the holy season of Lent to claim and re-claim our identity and to rediscover the source of our hope and confidence. Whatever Lenten practices we embrace, they ought to help us know how we poor mortal sinners are finally marked by the mercy of God manifested in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.