Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Theology: Ash Wednesday and the Meaning of Sin

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. - Book of Common Prayer
One day, a man went out and bought a car. It was a beautiful car, fast and reliable too. The man would drive that car everywhere, and he loved it dearly. With time though, the car stopped running so well, it's brakes began to slip, it became a danger.

Sin is like the degradation of that car. Like the car, man was made for a purpose, created with a specific kind of life he was meant to live. But the First Man fell from that purpose, he degenerated and all his decedents after him. And this is where the analogy with the car breaks down, for it was, in the first place, a choice that led to the Fall. But sin is not a legal term, we are not thinking good and evil in terms of adherence to a law. Sin means missing the mark. Sin is falling from what we were created to be, and oftentimes, like the brakes on the car, that degeneracy becomes a danger to others.

So thorough does this degeneracy of sin run in the human race, so actual is its effect on us, that we cannot help ourselves. We have died spiritually and cannot return to what we were meant to be. God could have left us in that state, let us degenerate further, destroy ourselves, but instead He, in the person of the Son, became a man, and as a man He submitted to death and through Resurrection He conquered the power of sin and death.

Through this act, those who call on the name of Christ are sealed for the Resurrection. They are given an eternal inheritance, and the promise that at the last day they shall be raised with Christ. This healing is already breaking out in the world, but it is not yet complete. Though the seed of salvation is in us, we still live in a fallen world where inevitably we miss the mark.

Today is Ash Wednesday, it is the beginning of the season of Lent on the church calendar. During Lent, Christians around the world enter into a time of fasting, beginning on this day with the imposition of the ashes. These ashes symbolize the old Near Eastern practice of mourning in sackcloth and ashes.  To some, this may seem an odd tradition for Christians to practice. We have been forgiven, washed of our sins and given the guarantee of the Resurrection.

Yet, this season exists for a reason. Again, sin is not to be understood in a legal sense. Sin is degeneracy. And though in our spirits (our eternal nature) we are made new, yet still we live in the flesh (our corruptible nature). Because of this, we enter Lent as a time of mourning. We memorialize those who went before Christ, who lived in a time before He was raised from the dead, we remember our own lives apart from God, we bewail that we are still yet living this side of the Resurrection.

There is another purpose too, for though we are still in the Flesh, the Spirit is in us and we can grow. We will never attain perfection before we are made whole, but we can work to make ourselves and our world more like the Kingdom of Heaven. One day, Heaven shall be wedded to Earth, and the Kingdom work done in the here and now shall endure. As we fast during Lent, one of the things we do is discipline ourselves. We train ourselves in temperance and charity by fasting and reminding ourselves of our own faults. By God's grace, this work helps to transform our lives for the better, than we might be a blessing unto others. And all along, as we fast, we pray, and God answers.

I hope you join with me in this season of Lent. Fast, mourn, look towards Easter with hope, pray for the world around you, serve and be transformed.

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