Little Ash Crosses
Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the Lenten season in the church.
And once again I am excited to find myself at a church where there will be an Ash Wednesday service, where time and space is given to reflect, and observe this practice.
I grew up in a tradition that gave me many beautiful things- a love of Scripture and a commitment to studying and setting it in my heart and memory, encouragement of daily prayer and walking with Jesus, emphasis on a very real, and very personal relationship with Jesus, and beautiful hymns that I have found myself returning to for whatever reason over the past month.
But the church calendar is still something very exciting and strange to me.
It is so delighting to see the rhythms and movements of the Church, not just in the present, but also the past.
It fascinates me, the idea that Jesus is so deeply imbedded and part of our lives that he changes the way we mark the passing of a year. We don’t center our lives just around the days of the week, or time of the day, but on the significant and history changing events in the life of Christ.
The chance to be oriented this way is such a gift. And it’s all still new to me, and there are thousands of people who know it backward and forward and I’m sure could find my reflections on it to be riddled with inaccuracies and missing the point. But it still means something to me.
There’s something both comforting and sacred to think that when the Ash is spread on my forehead tonight, that I am sharing that moment with thousands of Christians who I may never even meet.
It’s intimate and tender, like my head is nestled in the chest of the Body of Christ, and I can hear its heart beating, like I get the chance to put a finger on that pulse and feel the lifeblood pumping through it.
I love the thought that we are joining together in the sorrows and victories of our faith, the death and the resurrection.
Because we have so much of both in the life of Jesus, between birth and resurrection. And that we have a faith that makes room for that, a faith that makes room for our shared frail humanity.
“Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.”
There is so much wrapped up in that little Ash cross, that goes beyond the gesture, the outward motion and movement and actions. We are reminded today that without the inward orientation toward Jesus, the outward expressions fall flat. Without the rending of our hearts as we seek forgiveness and repentance in those places where we have not loved our enemy, where we have seen and treated image bearers of God as less then fully human, where we have failed to keep God’s command to “seek justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”, all of our ceremony is for nothing.
We move forward after Ash Wednesday and look toward the Cross, we orient ourselves toward that space in Jesus’ life when he was moving toward that looming shadow, we make room for the grief and darkness and pain. And we are humbled.
So we continue in the beautiful, upending, radical walk of following Jesus, we pause, we observe, we gather, we practice letting certain things go, and stepping into disciplines that draw us closer to Jesus; we commit to praying daily, or maybe fasting weekly, or memorizing a chapter of Scripture. Or maybe we practice being generous with people, or listening to the people that don’t look or think like us. It’s not big or glamorous, and we try and fail or forget, but we look back and remember, we have space for that too. We have space for the falling and the flailing, and we repent of our sin, and we come open-handed back to Jesus.