As I write this post, today is Ash Wednesday. All over the world, Christians (or better yet followers of Jesus) are coming together some in the morning, some in the afternoon, some in the evening to mark the beginning of Lent.
For many followers, Ash Wednesday has never been celebrated. In my own life, our more than legalistic, rabidly free-church tradition, looked with great suspicion on anything that smacked of liturgy, ritual, and formal expression of faith. High church traditions were spurned in favor of more ecstatic expressions of the faith. As such, I missed out on some powerful experiences with God.
I am rediscovering these traditions in my adult years.
Today, I have been preparing the Ash Wednesday service for my parish, Christ Center Wesleyan Church. As such, I have been reading the scripture from the prophet Joel, “Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” (Joel 2.12-13 NRSV) I will be delivering a homily on those words this evening and immediately following, as celebrant, I will be imposing ashes on the foreheads or the hands of those who will received them. As I trace the cross on my congregants, I will say these words, “Remember, from dust you have come, and to dust you will return.”
As I have been meditating on the practice, I am reminded that Ash Wednesday brings sharply into focus my standing before God. All too often, as I journey through this life, things conspire to cloud that standing and relationship. It is all too easy to focus on me, on my priorities, my plans, my wants and needs. The philosophy and priority of this fallen world creep in and tempt me to view this world as my accomplishment, my priority, and my work a product of my strength.
By hearing the words, deep in my soul, and feeling the abrasion of the ashes on my forehead, I am reminded that I only have life in relationship to the God who formed me from ashes (dust). It was God, in mercy and love, who breathed the breath into my lungs…and into my spirit. It is God who orders my days. One day this earthly form will return to its requisite elements (to dust) all that will remain in the life God gives me.
When I realize my proper standing before God, I am moved to penitence, to repentance, and to return to right standing before God.
My prayer for each person who reads this is that this Lenten Season will be a time of renewal, of refocus, of returning to God with all our hearts. Remember, from ashes you have come, and to ashes you will return.
Anyway, that is just my meanderings for today…