Ashes, Dust, Death. Say What, Lent?

ashes

“It’s Lent 2014. You’ve never had this Lent before. It’s new. Let it be a good journey.”
— Fr. Pat Grile, St. Alphonsus Parish

I got ashed this morning. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. What’s the point of having the black cross (that quickly turned into a black smudge that faded into a black dot that prompted the drive-thru guy at Taco Bell to inform me I had “mascara or something” on my forehead. Really, dude? Mascara? I digress.) The more I thought about it and read about it, I decided I wanted in on the ashes. It’s not a sacrament, it’s a sacramental, meaning you don’t have to be Catholic to join in on the fun.

The ashes — a traditional sign of mourning and repentance — are meant to remind people that life is short, that we are mortal. “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” Kind of morbid, kind of strangely comforting, too. Recognizing for a brief minute that I’m not in control, that I’m going to die, that I’m dust – there’s something so honest and real about that. How often do we try to fake that everything is OK? We’ve got everything handled. We’re good. We’ve got this. When in reality we’re all one phone call, one sickness, one accident, one bad decision, one candy wrapper stuck in the throat (that for real happened today) away from losing all control, that is if we ever had any to begin with. It felt refreshing to stand together with hundreds of other ashed people acknowledging this hard, dust-y truth.

It doesn’t end there, though. Thank God. If Ash Wednesday were the end of the story then let’s “eat and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which marks a 46-day season meant to prepare us for Easter – a celebration of new life and resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection gives us real hope that all that’s broken will one day be made right.

There’s hope.

Eternal hope.

That hope isn’t just for the future, it’s for now, too. Lent is all about self-examination: examining what’s inside of us that needs to die so that new life can take its place – not all on our own effort, but with God’s grace and mercy. Seriously. When do you ever set aside time to self-examine? Well, here you go. A six-week gift of time.

So what is it for you? Mine. Ugh. My anger. My attitude. My judgment. My gossiping. My swearing. My phone addiction. Must I go on?!

For Lent I’m giving up the use of my phone as anything but my phone (just talking and texting) and swearing (yes, I’m a pastor and I’m admitting that). But it doesn’t stop there. I’m replacing old habits with new: texting one encouraging message to a friend each day (maybe I’ll send a few notes – maybe), a daily Lenten calendar and devotional with the kids, and one soul-training exercise each week.

We’ve never had this Lent before and we’ll never have it again. Let it be a good journey, friends.

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