Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why all the smudges? Or, why we should celebrate Ash Wednesday


Growing up as a kid, like many kids, I paid no mind the the church calendar. Unless it was Christmas. I was a kid after all. When I was in high school, I began to explore my faith. I was enrolled in a Catholic school, while being confirmed into a Presbyterian Church.  That's when I began to notice the weird (to me) practice every Lent of my classmates walking around with smudges of ash on their forehead. 

So what exactly is Ash Wednesday.  For some of my Protestant friends, yes I agree, there is no biblical directive for us to celebrate Ash Wednesday. Just like there isn't a directive to celebrate Christmas or Easter. But there is at its core a great biblical theology of creation, sin, our mortality, grace and death.  It calls us to community in our shared brokenness and the humility of our mortality. 

The last few Ash Wednesdays I have spent imposing ashes in a major Hospital in the City. The same hospital that I did my chaplaincy training and now work as a per diem chaplain as an ordained Presbyterian chaplain.  The picture below is my thumb, after only half a day imposing ashes.

What I appreciate the most about Ash Wednesday it calls us to reflect on our shared frailty and brokenness. We come together and confess our sins, as a community, and visibly display our recognition that we are mere carbon based beings that return to that dirty red clay. (That's a Genesis reference)

But thats the great thing. We follow a gracious God. A God that took on our brokenness on the Cross of Jesus. And it's the road to that cross, and the resurrection story that we begin to reflect and pray about on Ash Wednesday.  We take the time to reflect on the sacrifice and the service of our savior Jesus Christ and to attempt, however much we fail, to live a life that models his grace and love. 

As I said to those I met today, I leave with you today: Remember that you are dust; and to dust you will return. And remember that our God is with you. 


By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, 
since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:19 NIV


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