From Dust You Came

ash_wednesdayWill you be going to an Ash Wednesday service today?

I will. I don’t attend worship too regularly, but the season of Lent is important to me, for my relationship with the Holy. But in many churches, folks will stay home today. Groundhog Day probably has more fans than the first official day of Lent. I know some reasons that truckloads of folks don’t break down the doors for an Ash Wednesday service . . .

  • Too early! The first Ash Wednesday worshippers have to drive through darkness to get to a church. Dark! Cold! Or it’s mid-day . . . a bad time, gotta be to work. Or in the evening . . . hey, I have dinner plans!
  • Ash Wednesday’s a Catholic thang. And I’m Protestant! Get it, I “protest” all those strange rituals and saints and the Pope’s infallibility. Just give me a sermon (though not too long, pretty please) and let me know when the next pot-luck is and I’m a happy camper.
  • What’s Ash Wednesday? Never heard of it!

For over a thousand years the Christian church has trod this human-concocted path, this Ash Wednesday to Easter morning 40-day journey. There’s no Biblical mandate to streak ashes on our forehead. Jesus was never quoted as saying, “Get thee to an Ash Wednesday service (which by the way is on a Wednesday) and, verily, verily, I declare . . . make sure you also don’t forget to attend Good Friday worship and definitely play J.S. Bach quite loud on Easter, please!”

Nope, we’ve made it all up to help us remember, to help us reflect on our relationship with God and neighbor.

We have an Ash Wednesday, a beginning of Lent, in part to recall Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. There, scripture imagined, Jesus was tempted by the devil. But I think we too easily re-imagine that moment in peculiar, “easy” ways. This year, 2014, the big screen “Son of God” has been released . . . another Hollywood take on Jesus. It’s from Mark Burnett (producer of TV’s “Survivor” series) and his wife Roma Downey. I think they got the temptation scene ALL WRONG. Watch the clip . . . and a viewer sees a glowering, nasty and perhaps even African-American-looking Satan/devil. Ah, the tempter is a bad ass dude? A brother from the wrong mother? And maybe the tempter even prompts a little (or a lot) modern racism? How not subtle, Mr. Burnett. While I don’t think there is a “Satan,” I never doubt the reality of evil. But evil is rarely “bad looking.” Evil—the things and people who cause us to stumble and grumble and tumble—are more likely very attractive. Or very mundane.

Ash Wednesday, as artificial as it is on the calendar, helps us keep our eyes open to each day’s real temptations.

So off I go to an Ash Wednesday service. It’s only ashes, with a dash of oil; an ancient ritual with the simplest of elements. And yet it does convey an unnerving, tenderhearted truth. We do need to humble ourselves before our Creator. We do need times of private self-examination. We do need to publicly declare that we fall short of God’s dreams for us.

Ashes are smeared on flesh. “From dust you came to dust you will return.” I am reminded of my frailty, my mortality, my dependence on God’s grace-filled love.

(Cross image from here.)

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