The winter air was freezing, but Henry stood barefoot in the snow outside Greg’s door. He had walked miles to get here yet Greg refused to see him. There, Henry sat crying, not eating, and begging Greg to forgive him. It wasn’t until Henry had groveled for three days that Greg finally opened the door and reluctantly granted him forgiveness.
This is a true story from a thousand years ago. Henry was Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor and the most powerful ruler in the western world. Greg was Pope Gregory VII, the self-declared representative of Christ to the whole earth. The two had gotten into a disagreement, and it resulted in that outrageous show of repentance in the snow.
If we’re being honest, the whole story seems kind of ridiculous. First off, as a Protestant Christians, we don’t recognize the Pope as God’s authority on earth; instead, we believe God’s Word alone is our authority. But also, to modern Westerners like us, begging can seem so… pathetic. It’s the lowest form of humiliation, one to which we could never descend and retain any form of dignity. However, this sort of debasement-of-self is something of which our culture certainly needs more. And as Christians, we have every reason to be leading the way in humility.
When Job came face to face with the greatness of God he said, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). When Mordecai and the Jews learned that the king planned to kill their people “there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes” (Esther 4:3). As we recognize the incredible disparity between a perfect, holy God and our own darkened, wicked hearts, pretending that we still have some dignity is no longer an option. “We are but dust, and to dust we shall return” (Genesis 3:19).
Throughout history, the church has used Ash Wednesday as an opportunity to resist the culture of pride by placing our own weaknesses on display. We are a people who need forgiveness. This year on Wednesday, February 22, at 6:30pm, Phoenix Bible Church will spend time humbling ourselves before God as we enter the season of Lent. Following the examples in the Bible, we’ll have the opportunity, if you’re comfortable, to place small ashes on your hand or forehead as a sign of repentance. However, we recognize that it isn’t our outward show of repentance that results in forgiveness but only the repentant posture of our hearts before God.
We have nothing good of our own that we bring to the table. We are at the mercy of the Almighty God. But, praise the Lord, Christ always abundantly lavishes forgiveness on those who repent. It is His great delight to be reunited with us.
Jesus won’t make you beg three days in the snow.