Child: "Mom, what's butt dust?"
Okay so this wasn't actually said at my internship congregation but it's still funny. Ash Wednesday. It's one of my top 5 favorite church services. Right up there with Easter Sunrise, Christmas Eve Candle Light, Christmas Morning, and Palm Sunday.
Ash Wednesday marks the begining of lent a 40 day journey to the cross. It has it roots back with Jesus and his anointing... "A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table...When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. (Matthew 26:7,12)
The journey to the cross begins with an unusual anointing. Today people gathered at Our Redeemer as they do around the world. They enter in with quiet reflection and exit with a death mark upon their foreheads—ashes mixed with oil applied in the shape of a cross.
The cross is a powerful symbol of God’s deep and abiding love for us. Jesus became flesh to offer a divine, selfless love to restore all things broken. His life, death, and resurrection invite us into a relationship with God, and to live our lives with a love that reconciles and transforms all things. It is a reminder of death. Both the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and our deaths.
I speak in the plural, highlighting the two types of human death we contemplate during Lent. There is the daily death of self that we attend to with renewed vigor during Lent. Then there is the future death of our physical body, which the ashes remind us is looming. While death of self marks growth in Christ, physical death underscores the fate of this world—destruction. Our hope is that as we move toward our physical end through processes of decay, we grow in new life with Christ by giving up our preoccupation with self. We would like to see our power in these arenas be inversely proportional—less able to stop the decay of our body, more empowered to let our self die for the sake of Christ.
The passage above recounts an anointing prior to Christ’s death. Our Lord tells His disciples that it is preparation for burial. Some of those around Him do not understand the act. They even ridicule it. In a few days, Jesus gives up His body and His will to the will of the Father. We remember His words: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Like Christ, we are preparing for death. Receiving a symbol upon our body that others will not understand. Walking toward acts of renunciation that confuse them. It is the beginning of our death march—death of self during Lent. But it also marks growth in Christ—growing strength to be filled with God’s will.
|Brock showing off his ashes.|
As you encounter difficulties in the next few weeks, let your breath prayer be the words of Christ, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Just as the powers of evil misjudged God’s work in Christ, so too they will misjudge what God is able to do within your life.