Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ashes on the Inside

Highlands Church is hosting it's first Ash Wednesday service tonight at 6:30PM.  Being a fourth generation Presbyterian minister, I have never actually attended an Ash Wednesday service, let alone led one.  At the ripe old age of seven I remember asking my father about why my Catholic friends had, "ashes on their foreheads...have they done something wrong?"  "They have done something wrong, so have we all, and Presbyterians wear their ashes on the inside..."  For weeks afterward, I couldn't erase graphic images of ashes, soot, and old logs, floating around in my stomach.

I actually believe that Ash Wednesday is one of those holidays (holy days) which Evangelical Christ followers should take more seriously.  After the Reformation, our side of Christianity jettisoned many of the unhealthy vestiges of Catholicity and sanctimoniousness Thankfully, this is why I don't own a papal hood, or a cardinals frock.  The down side of this proverbial theological bathwater drainage, has been that many of the healthy outward signs and symbols of faith (anointing, ashes, incense) have been lost.  As a result, people in my own congregation constantly ask, "Why can't I be baptized again...for the fourth time?"  What they want deep down is not baptism, but something tangible to hang their faith on.

Whether we actually put ashes on our foreheads or not, all Christ followers should view Ash Wednesday, and consequently Lent as a time to do four basic things:

1.   We should try to have Lent be a time of getting closure on some of life's painful and hard experiences.  Ashes symbolize this pain; "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." (Job. 42:6)
2.  We should have Lent be a time to allow God to work on our ongoing areas of sin.
3.  We should have Lent be a time of being released from the treadmill of perfection.  God told Adam, and he tells us, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food, then you will return to the ground, since you were taken from it; from dust you were made, and to dust you will return." (Gen. 3:19)  As John Ortberg more recently put it, "At the end of the monopoly game, it all goes back in the box."
4.  Finally, Lent should be a time of preparation for Easter.

All for now....GB

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