I don’t really have time for this today, but I’m jumping in anyway. Growing up as part of a non-observing tradition, I hear a lot of misunderstanding and arrogantly false piety during certain times of the year that seems to be based on what we don’t do. Like now. It seems that some of us think that somehow “we” are in some type of higher standing with God because we don’t observe certain “man-made rituals” that other faith communities do practice. Like slapping the “man made” label on something automatically allows us to throw it away as insignificant. You won’t see any ashes on “our” heads today – unless it was chimney cleaning day. I’m fine with that, but it really shouldn’t be a source of pride.
Others in my tribe will hardly remember that today is Ash Wednesday until a classmate or co-worker walks into the room with the tell tale smudge. We’ll barely take note of the day that marks the beginning of Lent in preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. We celebrate being able to live in the truth of his resurrection all the time, so we don’t pay a lot of attention to most ‘church calendar’ type of observances. I’m ok with that, too – but again, I wonder, why would someone look down their nose at another who does find meaning in the ritual?
Could it be, that maybe we’re missing something?
Could it be, that maybe… just maybe, there is more to Lent than the caricature that we so easily lampoon and dismiss? More than giving up chocolate or Facebook or some other triviality for a few weeks? Could it maybe be about something more than fish on Fridays?
I think so.
While I think it’s Biblically true that there is no spiritual obligation for a person to observe Ash Wednesday, or Lent, or any other similar event, there surely can be spiritual benefit from doing so. The Ash smudge is certainly not a stamp on anyone’s passport to heaven, but it can definitely be more than an inconvenient mark of ritual. I hear friends degrade others’ actions as simply going through the motions, but do we even know what it is of which we’re being so dismissive? Do we ever take the time to find out what’s at the heart of all of this?
Unfortunately, we often don’t. Which is sad, because at the heart of Ash Wednesday is repentance and at the heart of Lent is sacrifice. These are more than religious sounding words to kick around when we want to sound spiritual. They are critical cogs in the workings of discipleship, just as celebrating new life and victory over death are. It’s strange though… we don’t seem to have this same arrogance toward our brothers when we’re showing up for church on Christmas and Easter (two man made holidays that extol those more palatable virtues).
If you’re a Christian who’s observing Ash Wednesday today, examine your heart and observe with the intent to be restored. May your contrition be so evident and real that those who would dismiss your actions as cartoonish and irrelevant would be put ashamed and reminded of the grace we share. May your repentance lead you deeper into the heart of God than you’ve ever been.
If you’re a disciple who’s always ignored Lent & Ash Wednesday, take a second look. Sure, some who observe these days do so only out of some sense of ritual or obligation, but does that mean they have no value at all? We sure don’t make that argument when it comes to baptism or communion. Like the Grinch at Christmas, notice that there’s a whole lot more than what you may have thought. Ask our Creator to lay bare the inner chambers of your heart and see if there’s something there from which you need to repent. May He draw us nearer, as well.
A little more reading if you’d like to dig a little deeper:
Why Practicing Lent IS Crazy from Relevant Magazine
Some Thoughts For Ash Wednesday from Fuller Youth Institute