On Wednesday, February 10th, I finally made it home after a long, long day in the middle of a tiring week thus far.
We had had our quarterly regional church meeting in Dallas that weekend. I’d preached two services that Sunday morning. I had met a church member on Monday night to talk about his life and some realizations he’s been coming to in regards to his past, present and future. We had an all-church meeting Tuesday night to talk about our next steps in regards to our vision and mission. And on Wednesday, we had an exhausting, all-day meeting from 9am-4pm.
That Wednesday night, we held our Ash Wednesday service at the church. That may or may not be your tradition. It hasn’t been mine growing up, but we have adopted it (it’s both optional and somewhat controversial for Presbyterians) because we think it helps people in spiritual formation and in preparation for Holy Week, for celebrating Easter. Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. We think about our spiritual condition and our need for Christ to work in our lives. We fast from things not to make ourselves better, but to remember that our souls can control our bodies, and that our hunger (literal or metaphorical) points us to God and his provision. We long for a full redemption of all things and are thankful for the graciousness God gives in Christ.
Our Ash Wednesday service involves prayers and readings. Bobby preached a short homily regarding our need and Christ’s love for us. Then we administered ashes on the foreheads of anyone who wanted them. As people came forward one by one, I would place an ashen cross on them, and say the words, “From dust you have come; to dust you shall return.”
That may seem like a morbid thought, but it’s a true one. It’s something we often run from, but we shouldn’t.
Death is all around us. Babies with heart defects and cancer. Broken bones. Addictions. Hatred. Drunk drivers in head-on collisions killing friends and family. Abuse. Abortion. Racism. Neglect.
We try to beat those things. We want this world to be a better place. We see, care and help. We long for a day when all things are made new.
We’re not there yet. We’re connected into the whole fabric of it all. We’re dying. We’ll die.
May there be hope.
I went home exhausted that Ash Wednesday. I sat to watch the news for a few minutes before bed, so I flipped on CNN. And I instantly saw that I was not alone that night. Commentator Donna Brazile sat on a panel discussions politics I’m sure. I don’t always agree with her opinions. I’m sure we vote differently. I’m sure we don’t have much in common.
She was a marked woman. She bore the ashes – on national television. She didn’t do this in private and then wipe them off, which I’m sure the producers of the show had wanted her to do. She couldn’t. She believes that whatever happens, she’ll return to dust.
And in Christ, she’ll return to glory. She’ll be a resurrected woman because the mercies, love and power of Christ are found in her by faith. We may be tired, and we may be dying, but we have hope that this is not the end.
Horatius Bonar wrote,
The whole creation groan, and waits to hear that voice
That shall restore her comeliness and make her wastes rejoice
Come Lord and wipe away the curse, the sin, the stain
And make this blighted world of ours thine own fair world again