2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:1 We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.
Christmas and Easter give a chance in the Christian year to raise up the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection. However, as a confusing array of jolly, red-clad men, elves, snowpersons, reindeer, bears, bunnies, sweets, and eggs parade through our observances, it is easy to find oneself on the other side of the holiday wondering how our attention got so drawn away.
It seems that too often the Jesus who should be at the center of things keeps getting jostled farther and farther to the back of the parade line. At this rate, it seems only a matter of time until Jesus is completely missing from the parade. The only thing worse would be for him to go on missing and no one notice….or care.
Ash Wednesday opens the season of Lent, a time when observers do make a point to care. A longstanding ritual in some Christian traditions, Lent stretches the 40 days (excluding Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter. During this time persons take part in times of reflection, penitence, repentance and prayer. Many will fast or deprive themselves of luxuries or comforts, showing their personal sorrow at sin and shortcomings before God.
The use of ashes to show remorse goes back to the Hebrew people (Jonah 3:6 and Matthew 11:21). As early as the 2nd century, the ashes are seen being used by early Christians. “From dust you came and to dust you shall return” (from Genesis 3:19) is a gentle reminder often heard as the sign of the cross is drawn, or imposed, in ashes upon one’s forehead.
Yet even as this time of serious contemplation nears, the day before Ash Wednesday is sometimes wildly celebrated in yet another parade, Fat Tuesday (in French, Mardi gras). Here people stock up on all the “good stuff” before the time of fasting.
There is nothing wrong with a parade in itself. But this season, these 40 days leading up to Easter, we are invite you to look as the parade route splits off and revelers go on ahead. If you look closely enough you can see that other route: a small dusty path. This is no parade. Here are the persistent footsteps of a lonely figure bearing the weight of the world upon his shoulders. And his face is set toward Jerusalem. We are called to notice. We are called to care.
Prayer: God of grace, be with us as we come now, seeking to shed the distractions that separate us from seeing and knowing the One who carries the weight of the world for us. Forgive us of our sins that separate us from fellowship with you and your people. Help us ever grow more like the people you call us to be. We pray in the holy name of Jesus, Amen.