Last week's Ash Wednesday service profoundly changed how I view ashes in light of Jesus' sacrifice.
Upon entering the sanctuary, I received the cross-shaped smudge of ashes on my forehead. If you've ever received ashes, you know how hard it is to remove them later.
Ashes are much different than dust. In the Old Testament, God gathered dust to create Adam. In the New Testament, Jesus added water to dust and created mud to heal a blind man's sight. Mud washes off with ease.
But ashes are entirely different.
When ashes are mixed with water, they just smear. Because ashes seep into our pores. They become embedded.
No wonder ashes are synonymous with sin. We can't just wash them off with water.
It takes something much stronger.
When Jesus hung on the cross, He was first offered wine and myrrh. The wine would have been sweet, and myrrh contained anesthetic qualities. Together, they would have taken the edge off of Jesus' suffering. But He refused them.
Later, after Jesus knew He had fulfilled all that God sent Him to accomplish, He said from the cross, "I thirst." The guards soaked a sponge in vinegar and gall and offered it to Jesus. He accepted and ingested it.
You see, vinegar removes ashes.
Try it. It seeps under the skin to remove the stain that water only smears.
Jesus' sacrifice on the cross proved to be the vinegar that would remove the ashes of sin from every believer's soul.
After we received Christ's body and blood during communion, our church's elders used vinegar-soaked sponges to remove the ashes from our foreheads that were placed there when we entered the sanctuary.
As I left that service, I felt clean -- not because a smudge had been erased from my forehead.
But because Jesus' immeasurable love and sacrifice removed the sin smudge from our very souls for eternity.
I will never view ashes, vinegar or Jesus' sacrifice the same again.