Ash Wednesday Reflection: What It Means to Be Human
The voice said to me: Human one, stand on your feet, and I’ll speak to you.
In the Common English Bible, the Lord addresses Ezekiel as “Human one.” Most English translations prefer the traditional “Son of man” instead of “Human one.” This is a more literal rendering of the Hebrew ben-adam. But the CEB rightly represents the sense of the Hebrew phrase. “Son of man” in this context means “human being” or “human one.” The Lord is not giving Ezekiel some special title, but addressing him in his humanness.
It’s providential that we are considering this topic on this day of the year. Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian season of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, Christians throughout the world have ashes “imposed” on their foreheads in a solemn service of worship. When this happens, the one who imposes the ashes quotes a version of Genesis 3:19, something like: “You are from dust, and to dust you will return.”
Ash Wednesday reminds us of our inherent humanness. We are from dust. We were created out of the dust of the ground. Yet Ash Wednesday also points to our sinfulness. We will die. We will return to the dust because of our sin.
The second implication of our dustiness is not good news. It’s the bad news of our condition as sinful human beings. Because of our sin, we will die. Yet, embedded in Ash Wednesday is a sign of the good news yet to come. Ashes are imposed on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. This ironic symbol, which once meant a horrible death, now points to life in Jesus Christ. The ashes of Ash Wednesday begin the season of Lent by presaging what comes after the end of the season: Good Friday, the day when the wages of our sin were paid by God through Christ.
The celebration of Ash Wednesday is not required in Scripture. Therefore, you are free to observe this day or not, according to how the Spirit leads you. But the truth of Ash Wednesday is for all people, not just all Christians, but all people. We are created from dust. Because of our sin, we will die, thus returning to dust. But God has done in Christ what we could not do for ourselves, taking the penalty of our sin and offering us the gift of new, eternal life.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you experience your humanness? In what ways is it great to be human? In what ways is it not so great? What reminds you that you need a savior?
PRAYER: Gracious God, how I thank you for the gift of life. I thank you for the body you have given me. I thank you for my health, and for all the gifts that come with being a human being.
Yet, Lord, on this day, I’m reminded of the fact that I am not just a human being, but also a sinful one. I feel the impact of sin in my life each day, as I fail to do what’s right, as I choose to do what’s wrong, as my body ages, as the relationships in my life are painful, as my work is sometimes filled with thorns and thistles. Thus, I realize once more just how much I need a savior, just how much I need you.
As I enter the season of Lent, please draw me close to you. Renew my passion for you. Refresh my love for you.
All praise be to you, O God, my creator and my savior. Amen.
P.S. from Mark: If you would like to learn more about Ash Wednesday, you may wish to visit this link: Ash Wednesday: What Is It? How Do We Observe It? Why Should We? I’ve also written on the meaning and practices of Lent: How Lent Can Make a Difference in Your Relationship with God.