Ash Wednesday – the day of interruption. Nearly out of the dreariness of winter and so badly wanting to experience the life of spring, but first, here’s a little more gloom.
For those of you speak “movies,” maybe it’s something like after watching all eighteen of the coming attractions, you get that “Now the feature presentation” slide which in that split-second, you have to remember what you actually came to see. Then comes Ash Wednesday stopping the opening scene so you can be shown 40 more previews. Oh come on, will we ever get what we want?
As you may know, Lent simply means “springtime.” Here in the Northeast, it feels like a rumor. And now that I live in New England, it almost feels like the speculation that meteorologists come up with, “We might get 15 more inches of snow, or just a little rain.” (Every time I hear a meteorologist give the weather, I thank God this person chose a career outside of medicine or commercial aviation).
Now, I know as a pastor, it is possible that if the faith I profess is wrong, then I am worse than any meteorologist who ever stepped foot in front of those green screens. I can’t really say, “There might be a God or not. You might be created in the image of God or there really is no soul and your body just decomposes six feet below the ground if your family didn’t cremate you. Come back next Sunday for an update.” I’m all in this faith thing and frankly, I really believe this stuff – I really believe in the God Christianity speaks of.
And so one of my favorite parts of church worship is the practice of re-centering. We dedicate a specific hour to gather together and not talk about ourselves. We don’t sing about our love, or about our heartbreaks, we don’t collect money for our personal benefit, the hour is not about us. Instead we ask God to interrupt our agendas, our selfish behavior, and we ask Him to show us His way, to open our hearts to the greatest of things.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” I find that I immediately want to interject and say, “Well no exactly. Because of Jesus, there is life after the ashes, there is resurrection after …” And then similar to David Bazan, I hear the voice of the Holy Spirit telling me to shut up (Any Pedro the Lion fans?) Part of me just wants to cut to the chase of Easter. Part of me wants us to only talk about the abundant life. I don’t want to talk about death – why would I? The story of Jesus tells us that death has to be defeated in order … well … Ash Wednesday interrupts and says, “Not so fast, let’s talk about the pain, suffering and death a little more.”
Lent is a journey, one that is painful, beautiful, potentially profane, hopefully redemptive among other things. Thus, it starts on Ash Wednesday, a reminder of the nothingness of life, an Ecclesial admonition of the folly of it all, and we receive this truth by smearing dirt on our foreheads. Then a whisper (probably not David Bazan’s Holy Spirit) that says, “Hide the meaning of Easter, don’t ruin the ending for yourself – journey. But first remind yourself that you’re nothing.”
It’s very contrary to what I’ve been told, what I’ve been saying and what I’ve been feeling. I don’t feel like nothing. This idea of ashes to ashes, dust to dust, isn’t that a bit much? This whole big deal of sin and depravity feels like religion’s attempt to keep people down and to set people up to receive a fake salvation from a imaginary deity. I plan on exploring empty religiosity more on the blog this Lent.
But to paraphrase Paul, if there is no Easter, forget about Ash Wednesday and Lent. Instead, enjoy some more food and wine and laugh with your friends. You only live once, you better soak all the pleasure and goodness out of life you can ‘cause you’re not going to be around forever.
There are 7 billion people on this planet right now. And apparently my local McDonalds has served a third of our global population (Go Tewskbury!). This is a world where you can make up just about anything you want. It’s a world where we are often told you have to get yours, only the strong survive, no one is looking out for you so you have to advocate for yourself and “Carpe Diem!” Hey, if God doesn’t exist, these maxims aren’t so bad. They could be a bit more altruistic but that feels a bit like extra credit in a dog-eat-dog world.
Then comes Jesus. With His noble platitudes and perplexing paradoxes. He says stuff like if you want to be the greatest, you have to be the least, if you want to find your life, you have to lose it, love your enemy, serve your rivals and I’m guessing He’d probably say, “If you want spring and summer, you have to embrace winter so let me interrupt you with some more winter and so here are your ashes.”
I plan on posting throughout Lent here. Would welcome the conversation and would love it if you followed along by subscribing (links on the right), commenting when you feel led and sharing these posts if they connected with you. Thanks for reading – grace and peace to you this Lent.