Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I’m thinking this year of the irony of Ash Wednesday—we mark our foreheads with ashes, just after we read a Gospel text in which Jesus tells us to wash our faces. We tell one another that we are dust, and to dust we will return, even as we are over 90% waterbeds that can simultaneously respirate, digest, circulate, and cogitate. Nevertheless our church chooses to impose ashes, and to receive them, and to remember death in the midst of life in order to proclaim life in the mystery of death.
A few years ago, I learned how to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday. It’s really simple—you just have to remember to keep the palms from Palm Sunday, and then remember to burn them a day or two before Ash Wednesday. All you need to do is light them with a match and in a few seconds, they become ash. Then you add some olive oil, and perhaps a drop of essence, and mix that together. That’s all you do.
Someone looking on from an earlier time might think you’re making a potion, or a ward against evil, or some other magic. But God does not work in magic. The ashes do not protect us from anything, nor do they invite anything other than notice. They are not a potion or even a prophylaxis. It’s just a smear of ash and oil, and it works to remind us of a mystery, that God is Lord of life and death, and that Jesus is raised from the dead.
Think of the ashes as an invitation. It’s an invitation into a mystery, not a mystery that’s a problem to solve, but a mystery that is like an eternal revelation of joy. That’s the same invitation that comes in the invitation to repentance, an invitation into the joy of life with God in Christ Jesus. It’s the invitation into life, into truth, into love.
This Lent, we will be resuming Wednesday Night Dinner Church. Dinner church is dinner and church—hopefully somewhat like the early church’s practice. This year, we’ll be focusing on the Christian theology of the environment. We ask people to bring something to share, and we especially need some people to bring a pot of soup. If you’d like to volunteer to bring a pot of soup or chili on March 13th, March 20th, March 27th, or April 3rd, please e-mail the office. There’s a sign-up sheet at Sunday worship, too.