Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite days of the Christian year.
It’s one of those rare occasions where our big truth avoids getting co-opted. Or spun. Or turned into a campaign to sell us something so that our practice can be reduced to spending a few dollars. Instead of changing our lives.
No one can rescue these words: Remember, you’re really just dust. And you’re going to die.
It’s a sharp, uncomfortable confrontation. And absolutely true.
Ash Wednesday can slice through even our social media culture–which offers dizzying options for spin. Social media is a great tool for representing things as we’d like them to be. Instead of how they are. Or distracting ourselves from big things with little things. Or retelling the stories of how we have been unfairly treated. Because, yes, the algorithms know that we will spend more time on stuff that makes us stamp our individual feet and scream, “Unfair!” So it sends us that stuff. And we rehearse it. Over and over again.
The algorithms also know that our species longs to fit in, measure up, belong. We want status and its marker of likes. So we get those reminders, too. With more rehearsals.
And then Ash Wednesday arrives. And offers a very different rehearsal of reality.
It insists that we’re temporary. All of our representing-achieving-aquiring-seeking. All of our personal foot-stamping stuff. Even all of our healings and betterments and connections. Temporary.
And somehow this no-exceptions reminder is life-giving.
Because it peels back layers of self-deception. It keeps us from approaching life as our own self-improvement project. It prevents us from turning the Source of All Being into a personal butler. It makes clear that we can’t save ourselves. The facts are too stark. The work is too big. And it turns out that we are sick of cheap, candy-coated hope and the taste of plastic bread anyway.
It’s unlikely, but unmistakable. Ash Wednesday speaks good news.
Because our dustiness is the very occasion for God to break into the world. The Holy is not afraid of getting dirty. In fact, dust is what unleashes the incarnational scandal. Dust is at the heart of our priceless hope. Jesus became dust to show us that dust is lovable–we are lovable. To show us that nothing can separate us from divine love. Not even the big, no-exceptions rules.
Love comes for us–not because we have the right friends, the right look, the right political views, the right stuff, the right credentials. It comes for us because we are nothing more than temporary gritty specks.
Ash Wednesday sets up grace. Everything else that follows in the Christian year shows what God is willing to do for those gritty specks. How far God will go to call, pursue, and rescue them. Us.
In the Downloadables this week, there’s an Ash Wednesday script for this work of the people. It’s a high-participation, small-setting, intergenerational, self-guided, worship-arts resource–with four stations:
- Confession in Art: Creating an image of our dustiness and sinfulness.
- Silent Soup: Receiving a simple meal. With real bread and deep listening.
- Keeping a Holy Lent: Making a spiritual practice plan for the next 40 days.
- Imposition of Ashes: Remembering the reality to which the good news speaks.
Let me know what you learn. I’m grateful for your work and the privilege of sharing it with other precious, dusty folks.
Thank you for your ministry,