Repentance and Renewal: Ash Wednesday service

Story by Jeffery Murungweni

I have heard so many people proclaiming that for them to be alive up to this very day, it is surely by the amazing grace of God. Indeed it is because of God’s mercies that we still breathe and are very much alive on this earth. Growing up in a Christian family, I got caught up in the frenzy of directing my reason for existence to the ‘grace of God’ which I just heard many people like my parents and those from church always refer to. Obviously, as a child who stayed in such an environment, how could I not get the hang of the ‘mercies of God?’ The quite funny thing for me then was that I did not quite understand what ‘living by the grace of God’ implied. This was me getting to talk about a quality of a God I had not yet personally known at that stage since I was still a child.

When people have a deeper dive into the issue of the mercies of God, they get to discover that this is the very essence of what Ash Wednesday is all about! A day that marks the beginning of Lent, the period when they get to reflect on themselves, put on humility and come before the Father, who is ever so ready to receive them through His Son, Our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ. At Africa University, we had an amazing opportunity to receive preaching from Professor Rev.Javier A. Viera, who also happens to be the president of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (the school of which our Vice-Chancellor is an alumnus). His preaching was anchored on two main scripture readings which are Jonah 3 vs. 3-10, and Luke 15 vs. 11-32, with the theme, “There is a wideness in God’s mercy.”

Professor Rev. Viera commenced with the popular story of Jonah and the Ninevites. This is indeed a story that depicts the mercy that God has, where, if we respond accordingly to His Love and concern, He can turn us from the red crimson state we are in due to sin, to become as white as snow due to purity. This story also portrays that no matter how ‘big’ one’s sin is , if you come before God, He is ready to forgive you at any moment. Salvation doesn’t seem that expensive, right? That is how God intends it to be, and for His people to know that He is an ever-loving Father who will forgive us at any instance we humble ourselves and seek forgiveness. In the book of Luke, there is the story of the prodigal son, where we see the father in that parable throwing a party for his son who, because of his waywardness, had lost everything he had, yet his father still welcomed him. These two stories in the Holy Bible just remind me of a song by Tasha Cobbs titled “You still love me.” It should remind us that in any situation, God will still love us, and care for us, just as we are promised in several biblical texts and stories.

In the midst of his sermon, Professor Rev. Viera then took a certain twist, which I found quite profound. In both instances of forgiveness in the two scriptures read, there was always someone who was not happy with the forgiving nature of God. Those people who seem to have a good relationship with the father were not too pleased with him giving mercy to the people who seemed to have done the ‘worst’. For me, the biggest question was: What then is the advantage of doing good, if we seem to get a similar reward no matter what? When we look at the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son had squandered all his inheritance, and when he came back, there was no any promise by the father to restore the lost wealth, yet the older son still had his portion. This implied that there are so many instances in life where we learn from the experiences of others, and us acquiring that knowledge means we do not fall into the same traps. This is a slight deviation from the main theme, but I thought I would bring this up at this point.

Ash Wednesday is a moment when we appreciate the loving nature of our God. God undoubtedly expressed this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins. This has empowered us as we no longer run away from God like what Adam and Eve did due to sin, but we now run to the presence of God, just like the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned and ended up getting saved because she was in the presence of Jesus. There is a scripture in 2 Corinthians 5 verse 17 which reads, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Because of Christ, we are new creatures, and we lost our old sinful nature as Christ died on the cross, and we resurrected with him in our new natures. This means that we no longer need to focus on just asking for forgiveness from God all the time, but rather, focus on manifesting this new nature that was bestowed upon us because of Christ’s resurrection. This scripture should empower us to live the dominating life that God wanted us to live in Genesis, where he mandated us as people to dominate. How strengthening the word of God is! Sin causes us to take up a form God did not originally design for us, but salvation leads us to become more like God himself, with the Holy Spirit guiding us in this journey of perfection. As we seek salvation during this period, may it also be a time that we ask the Holy Spirit to become the good beings God wants us to be, and live our lives as He wants us to.