In biblical times, ashes were associated with mourning. They were an external symbol of death, destruction and tragedies resembling the agony a person was going through. One example from the book of Esther was when the decree of Haman to destroy the Jews went out:
“When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry. 2 He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 3 And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.” (Est 4:1-3, NKJV)
We live in a fallen and broken world, filled with broken people. The tragedy and pain is not only our own experience but of those around us. We cause brokenness and we ourselves are broken. We may no longer use ashes as a symbol of mourning, but mourning is still part of our lives.
Our Lord knows our brokenness and came in person to carry away our sorrows. Most of His ministry years weren’t spent in the large centers of power and influence, but among the distant, the outcast and the broken. He went through the forgotten parts of the country and spread healing in the places of brokenness. He started out in the distant Nazareth, and declared His mission:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, 3 To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;” (Isa 61:1-3, NKJV)
Our Lord is still finding us in our brokenness. He still sees our grief and reaches out to comfort those who mourn. But He does more than comfort us; His touch is there to offer an exchange. You see, like in the time of Mordechai, we cannot enter into the King’s courts wearing our sackcloth and ashes. We have to be wearing proper attire to enter into the King’s presence. That is why He exchanges “Beauty” for our “Ashes,” and “oil of joy” for our “mourning.” We can continue to mourn for as long as we choose, but there comes a time where the Great Healer wants to escort us into the courts of the King, and to do so we must accept His exchange.
If we desire to see the broken made whole, we must change our location to the place where healing takes place. There is a prophesy in the book of Isaiah about the suffering of the Messiah. It says:
“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isa 53:5, NKJV)
The word used in Hebrew for “stripes” is- ובחבורותו-(U-be-Chavurato)- which is also the word for “being together.” So the verse also can mean that “In His presence” or “when being with Him” we are healed. It is His choosing to come and be with us that is the source of our healing, and He comes not only to sit with us in our grief, but to give us garments with which we can walk together into the courts of the King.