I took a moment this morning to look at what was trending today on Twitter and the top # was Ash Wednesday. I have to admit I was a little surprised at first given that we are generally not that prone to ponder our own mortality and what that means for how we live out the time we have been given. I quickly saw that a fair amount of the posts are about receiving ashes on the forehead and a call to justice for those with no voice. Then there are the jokes. As one person put it “When your an agnostic and you hear it is Ash Wednesday” and he included this picture of Ash from the Evil Dead series.
Then there was this tribute from a Pokemon fan,
Look I am not offended at all. Why would someone who does not believe in God or follow the Christian faith be expected to know what Ash Wednesday is about or care about it at all. In fact, I know that in the United States there are still plenty of Christians who are not comfortable with Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent for fear that they would be considered Roman Catholic and have to pledge their blood to the Pope in a strange secret ceremony. OK, they don’t really think that (I hope), but there is still a certain level of squeamishness about doing something that feels Roman Catholic. That is not new, Protestants have been dealing with those feelings since the split during the Reformation in Europe.
As a Presbyterian I am neither mandated to nor restricted from conducting an Ash Wednesday service. I have always been in partnership with congregations that have one Ash Wednesday service at night. It is never been a heavily attended service. There are lots of reasons for that, but why do we do it?
First, we gather together in public to be reformed by the Word of God. We acknowledge that we have not completed our spiritual journey individually or as a group. Both are works in progress and we must not cease gathering together to learn and grow as disciples.
Secondly, ashes and the service remind us that we are limited and in need of God’s intervention in our lives. We want to make this world just, livable, and restore lives and relationships. This is our vision, but we can’t seem to help getting in our own way through our own missteps. Therefore, we need God to help us focus on God’s plan and be filled by the Spirit to achieve that plan.
Lastly, we can easily get caught up in the messiness of life. Our pets are not well. Our job is ________. One of the kids is sick. Our grandmother is fading with each passing hour. In all of this we need to be reminded that it is a season and that there will be a completion to this season. It can also be a time to remind us of those who have no voice and are desperate for someone to speak up for them. That their lives matter and that their children deserve a quality education. That they desire to work, but there must be investment in their town and a way for them to earn a decent wage.
If you have faith in Christ and have never done “Ash Wednesday” you may want to try it and see what the Lord God could teach you. If you have no faith in God I would also invite you to come and hear. We are all on a journey through life so what might you learn from a service like Ash Wednesday?
May God fill you with hope and renew your heart’s commitment to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.