Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Ashes This Wednesday

I did not grow up in a tradition that observed Lent. When I moved to NJ (where "liturgical" churches are more common), I was a little bit surprised by how many people I'd see walking around with black crosses on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday-- which I also knew nothing about! Now that I'm worshiping in an Anglican church, I'm slowly learning about the meaning behind some of the practices the Christian Church has observed throughout the centuries. 

My pastor spoke briefly today about Ash Wednesday in particular. He said, "We put ashes on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality. None of us can escape death; that's why we say, "from dust you are and to dust you shall return." But we put the ashes in the sign of the Cross to remind us that Christ triumphed over death-- He rose again! Through trusting in Him and surrendering to Him, we have hope." 

He reminded us that the natural thing is to want to deny our "ashes"-- our mortality, our brokenness, our guilt before Him and others. We want to hide, to cover ourselves, to avoid His holy gaze. But the good news is that because of His great love for us, we can face our ashes without fear. It's not the good things we do to make it up to Him that allow us to enter His presence, but the good thing God did. He made a way in Christ for us to receive mercy when we ask, by becoming one of us-- taking on our mortal flesh!-- in order to redeem it, to restore it.

How exactly did God restore our "mortal flesh," our humanity? Not by escaping death, but by facing it willingly. The Bible says, "the death he died he died to sin, once and for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God." In other words, to follow Jesus is to follow Him to His death-- a death to sin!-- and to enjoy with Him the new life He now lives.

As I approach Lent, I think of the specific manifestation of my own "ashes"-- the broken patterns of fear, anxiety, and control operating in my life. I thank God that I don't have to be afraid to come into His holy presence, broken as I am. And as I anticipate Easter, I remember the incredible hope that I can follow Christ through the death of those patterns, and into the new life He has waiting for me on the other side of my fear. 

What do your "ashes" look like? What are your impressions of Lent in general? Does it seem like a dead ritual to you? Would you like it to be more than that?

1 comment:

RHardin said...

I grew up essentially knowing nothing about Lent. Lent started to mean more to me when I began a relationship with my wife, who is Catholic. At first I thought it seemed like pointless ritual, but later grew to appreciate it and realized that it could help grow my relationship with Christ in a way I never knew before.

I also learned that many of the things done in the Catholic Church that I formerly thought of as pointless ritual could actually bring me closer to God in ways I never thought of. While we don't regularly attend a Catholic Church, I love coming back every few weeks to get another perspective.