Today is the start of a new season in the Christian year. It is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Today, Christians all around the globe will gather for worship. Many will use ashes to make signs of the cross on their foreheads as a reminder “that from dust you came and to dust you shall return.” This is early in the calendar year to begin the season of Lent. For some of my colleagues, I am sure it feels like you just finished packing up the Christmas decorations. A February 10 date for Ash Wednesday feels a bit like running from one major celebration to the next.
At some point in my pastoral ministry, I remember an elementary aged boy asking me, “How was Jesus just born and now he’s going to be crucified?” Good question, young man. That’s one of the challenge of the Christian calendar. It can feel like we’re running from birth to death without life in the middle. And still, the mystery and message of Ash Wednesday is an invitation to a different way of life.
Perhaps that is why Ash Wednesday has always captured my soul. The reflective nature, the reality that we face our own mortality, the call to repentance, I don’t know what it is. It all seems so serious. Isn’t there, can’t there be some fun in the mix of it all? Oh, that’s what yesterday was for. Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, and paczki. Yesterday we embraced the last of our chocolate, last of our Diet Coke, last of our social media for 40 days, plus Sundays. (Yes, Lent is forty days. Sundays are not counted in the forty days.)
Ashes v. Snow
This morning the reality of Ash Wednesday arriving on February 10 hit Nashville. There is snow on the ground and snow falling from the sky. Yesterday and today have felt a bit like living in a snow globe. It’s beautiful and cold. It’s cold. And, it’s cold. Clear enough? Plans have changed and been rearranged. Some are canceling gatherings and others are adjusting times for their Ash Wednesday worship services. As our early morning plans changed, this invitation came across my email: “Go outside and pick up a handful of soil.”¹ At first I laughed and thought, “Sure. That’s possible.” (Insert snicker of sarcasm). My sarcasm may have continued, unchecked, for a moment. “How about snow?” I said to my phone as if it might offer an answer. Don’t worry, it didn’t.
The reality of what would happen if I went outside and picked up snow entered my mind. The snow would melt in my hand, roll off my hand, and disappear into the earth or vaporize into the air (or, freeze again into ice.) Regardless of what happened, eventually the snow would disappear. It will change form, becoming water, perhaps vapor. And then it will be gone.
The same came be said for us. Our physical bodies will rot, decay, and, yes, become dust. (You can thank me later for that uplifting thought.) While becoming dust may be a reminder of our mortality, it is even more an invitation to a disciplined life, the life of a disciple. And that, dear ones, may be the best invitation the Lenten season can offer to us. An invitation to live the life of a disciple.
Whatever the weather is outside, whether you pick up soil, sand, or snow, remember you are one of God’s beloved. The invitation today is to join Jesus on a journey that will include change, repentance, joy, and sorrow.
…and a whole lot more.
Whatever this season of Lent brings your way, may you live as a follow of Jesus who seeks embody the grace and mercy of a well-formed disciple. May you experience the love of Jesus working in and through you this Lenten season.
May it be so.