And yet also a sinner, believer, servant, husband, son, Jesus-follower, holy wonderer and wanderer, and God-lover.
I am cold.
I am alone.
It is Ash Wednesday.
As the preacher serving a congregation—which has included churches in Wisconsin’s dairy lands, along with urban and rural zip codes of California—I would head for the sanctuary before dawn to prepare the elements. Some would be for a traditional communion, though on Ash Wednesday, I usually chose the dry, brittle matzah bread rather than a freshly baked loaf. Other items were less familiar, an annual nod to Ash Wednesday’s peculiarities. There was literal ash, burned down from the prior Christmas’ pine boughs. Oil. And words. Always words. Always something on a page to read, something ready to say.
Sound dangerous? Well, I suppose so, in the same way a shortstop courts danger while planting his feet by second base when a runner from first goes airborne, hurtling toward the shortstop’s vulnerable legs. Or like a basketball player leaping for a rebound, fighting a rival player for the ball, sharp elbows punching face and chest, as she inevitably plummets, intertwined with the other, onto a hardwood floor.
I recall my first—and still only—professional hockey game. As with any sport, there was danger. Those blades on the skates were sharp. The hockey puck, bagel-sized and stone-hard, traveled at breakneck speeds.
So, yes, dangerous. Controlled and chaotic. But, truth be told, I had no idea what was going on. I was there because my wife and I were invited to attend a fundraiser. The hockey team, bless their community outreach efforts, was sponsoring a local non-profit’s work.
Will 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. Continue reading →