Reflection on Ash Wednesday
It’s 10:15p.m. February 22nd, 2012. In my world of liturgical Christianity… Ash Wednesday. My day started with the setting of the table, turning on the heat and lights, preparing the worship space at 5:30a.m. So, why am I here nearly 17 hours later? Easter.
It was really a delightful day. It started with a 6:00a.m. discussion of 1 Peter 3: 13-21 with my men’s group. Righteousness before God. Accounting for the hope that’s within us. Christ as the Ark that takes us to new life. Immediately after 9 saints gathered to remember that they are sinners, desperately in need of Christ and a restored relationship with God.
Then, Huddle, processing of Kairos moments. I realized just how anxious I was for ashes on my forehead to create an opportunity, to absorb the strange looks, to begin answering the questions. I wanted to say to the world, “It’s not just that Jesus loves me, or even that I love Jesus, but I NEED Jesus in my life… for hope, for love, for wholeness.”
Then a quick meeting about feeding hungry kids during the summer, warming cold people in the winter, and leveraging our relationships with other congregations and organizations to provide more for those in need. A delightful resource from WSU called “Finding Money in Today’s Economy” and my very own copy of “Report on Washington’s Food System: Response to Executive Order 10-02”.
Back for another imposing of ashes. 5 this time. Maybe more enjoyable than the first. The five were all women. All family/adopted family. Instead of a processing line to receive ashes they gathered in a circle and looking at these women from three generations, married to each other’s relatives, and adopted as part of the whole I couldn’t help but think about Oikos… the extended family we create in mission for God.
Then the kids… my kids. Elsa helped me to reset the table and the worship space. This time for the Holy Supper and a much larger crowd, then we went and got brother. A cookie. Some delightfully strange and inquisitive looks at the grocery store. How does the world see a man in full black clerical garb with ashes on his forehead holding the hands of two children and buying cookies? Back to St. Paul. The kids help set the tables for dinner. 53 seats- not enough for the crowd of congregation and the hungry who gathered. Nice problem. Plenty of food, though.
Then the big daddy. 7:00p.m. Ash Wednesday worship including the Order for Communion. 52 saints, sinners, and children of God heard told of a God who is present with us while we clean out our closets and as we begin to appreciate the rhythms of pruning might even step in and help. A powerful blessing from a friend and member of my congregation.
An uphill walk home. A conversation with my best friend. Kiss the kids good night. Get in the car. Return to St. Paul. Load a t.v., a DVD player, and a stack of DVD’s. Deliver them to the warming shelter where four people that I ate dinner with were ecstatic to have such a gift. How to accept their praise? It’s such a small thing. Our unwanted leftovers. They deserve better.
Walmart… a boy needs a bear. It’s teddy bear week at school and he doesn’t have one to bring. Jonah is going to share his dog with him (yeah, the five year old gets it). Krista and I are betting there’s more than one kid without a bear. More than half an hour looking, wandering… nothing. Thank God for the floral department of Safeway. He doesn’t look like much- tan with fat seams and stripes on his ears and feet.
And, then… it hits me. On this day, one of the very few church holidays that has not been coopted. Standing in the middle of the floral department of Safeway more than 16 hours after I started the day, still wearing the clerical garb… Easter. I am surrounded by it. Bunny rabbits and flowers. Chocolate and eggs. One of the fullest, most wonderfully busy days of the year has just turned surreal. I shouldn’t be surprised.
Christmas rolls out on November 1. Of course Easter will be the first thing after Valentine’s Day. But, on a day when I had so experienced the fullness of God. Rhythms of love and service that included my family, my friends, and my congregation the hurry to get to Easter… to skip over the ashes and the cross just killed me. Our culture is in such a hurry that the store couldn’t just be a store for one week. It’s the perfect experience of Live Fast. A full day. A wondrous day. A ruined day. For what was God’s presence and work of reconciliation became suddenly our human appetites, a pastel life where once there were bold shocking colors.
There are very few times in our church year that I want to encourage anyone to bring their gaze down from the world around them and to gaze inward. This is one of them. Please… abide. Dwell in the rhythm of Lent. Experience time in its fullness and its blessing. Mark the days with fruitfulness, family, and communal life. Be on mission to discover God’s mission for yourself, for your church, and your world. And, please, allow that there are dark times and acknowledge that the colors of Easter and the light of the resurrection will be far more brilliant if we force our eyes to adjust to darkness.