Ash Wednesday Message: The Murderer Fears Murder

As the Lord banishes Cain to the land of Nod, Cain is overcome by his punishment as he fears to be driven from the land and the Lord’s presence. He who murdered his own brother fears the violence of men outside of God’s reach. He doesn’t wish to be with God, but he grieves to be without him. “The murderer fears murder,” says Rev. Dr. Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., the former president of Calvin Theological Seminary and speaker for this year’s Ash Wednesday chapel.

Wednesday in chapel, the somber congregation stepped forward to be marked with ashes that recognize not only our shame as sinners but most importantly the grace our Savior has given us. Just as Cain was marked by God as his own, so are we.

What is most striking about Cain’s story? The fact that God wanted to save the murderer. In Genesis 4, God gives Cain a mark “so that no one who found him would kill him.” God marks Cain as a killer with shame, but also with grace to save him. God wishes to protect the one who failed to protect his brother. By showing grace, God cuts the loop of revenge in the world. Through Christ’s blood, our sin is shown his grace and our violence, his peace.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season “of penitence, discipline, and renewal” explains Pastor Paul, the associate chaplain for worship here at Calvin. “In the Ash Wednesday service, we are reminded of our mortality, we confess our sins, and we experience forgiveness through Christ’s death and resurrection.”

While generally a Catholic practice, the practice of Lent seemed to be less about rituals and more about remembrance this Wednesday. As we entered chapel, we were advised to “enter quietly and in reverence.” It is with humble hearts we enter into this season of Lent.