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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ashes

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday which marks the season of Lent.  Christians all over the world went to services yesterday and marked the beginning of Lent with an ash cross on their forehead.

  
I think symbols and visual reminders are often helpful in bringing us to a place of greater understanding.  For me, the symbol of the ashes was powerful.  Over the past year, the threat of death has hovered around us.  Sick family members with uncertain futures cause us to experience anxiety and loss.  Additionally, I have two friends who have kids fighting cancer.  You have hope and you pray for strength and healing, but the threat of death hovers.  So last night when I went forward to receive the ashes during our Ash Wednesday service as I looked into the bowl of ashes and heard my colleague say to me, "From the dust you have come and to the dust you will return, but through Jesus Christ we are given life and hope" it was pretty moving for me.  I just realized that the hope that I have that in Jesus' ultimate victory over death is something that truly sustains me.  The sting of death is harsh.  The earthly realities of living without loved ones is too much to bear.  But there is a greater hope that lies beyond the grave.  We will be ushered into the place where there will be no more sorrow and no more tears.  It is to this promise that I cling when the ashes seem to be drowning me.
And so begins my Lenten journey. 
The Lenten season, the 40 days before Easter not including the Sundays,  is a season marked by introspection, self-reflection and repentance.  It can be a heavy time and our tendency is to often want to skip over Lent and get to Easter.  After all, the themes and purposes of Lent are centered on self-reflection, repentance, acknowledging our need for Christ’s death on the cross because of our sins.  What fun is there in that?
Perhaps there isn’t much fun to it, but maybe that’s not the point either.  Perhaps it is a gift to us that during the season of Lent we are actually given space to own it as a truly spiritual time of year.  Our lives are not filled with the secular distractions that other holidays often have to contend with so that we are actually freed to truly see this season as a time when God wants to do some transforming work in our lives. He does want our attention and focus.  He does want us to know that we are headed towards the cross and he wants us to embrace what that truly means for all of us.  Lent is a time when we are invited into the quiet places of God’s transforming power.  It is a season when we look carefully at the ministry of Jesus and make the important and profound connections to our everyday lives.  It is a time when God, through the message of Christ, truly wants to transform our daily lives and create in us something new and wonderful because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that triumphantly awaits us when the season comes to a close.  What joy to celebrate how Christ has transformed our lives through his death on the cross while celebrating the new life that Christ literally takes on at Easter.  This celebration takes on deeper and more profound meaning if we take the time to journey through Lent first, allowing ourselves to be more acutely aware of the ways in which Christ is at work in our daily lives.
Sometimes people give something up for Lent as a reminder of all that Christ gave.  Giving something up requires discipline and sometimes it helps us to remain focused on the reality that we are in the midst of a special season.  Others add something to their lives...a daily reading, a more focused time of prayer, the giving of gifts to causes that are important to them.  Others do nothing and that is fine as well.  The point is this: What is it that you are doing to cause Lent to become a time of singular importance in your life, not so you can focus on yourself, but rather so you can focus on what God may be doing in your life during these weeks that precede Easter?
I guess for me the purpose of an intentional Lenten season is summed up in this verse from Philippians 3:10: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.
We don't really say merry Lent or Happy New Lenten season.  Instead perhaps we could just pray for one another, that the transforming power of Christ will be at work in our lives.  And if your Lenten season is marked by the pain of the ashes, then we can pray that the peace of Christ and the hope that is ours through His transforming work will be your close companion during these weeks.