Tangible Ashes

…yes, on Ash Wednesday, we do need to confess. We need to remember that we are finite and our lives are fragile. But we also need to keep in mind that is not what we were created to be.

Traditionally one of my favorite days of the liturgical calendar, this year I find myself approaching Ash Wednesday with a different sense of care.

I was reminded several months ago by a friend that while prayers of confession may be an essential practice within the history of the Reformed churches, nevertheless, they do a disservice to anyone who already finds themselves beaten to a bloody pulp.

As someone who loves the Reformed tradition, I speak with great love for our theology and know that none of us is without sin. That is something I define as breaking our relationships – with God, with one another, and with ourselves. (It is the converse of Jesus’s love commandments given in the gospels.) There is truth in that, I think.

And yet, for those who are consistently and constantly told that they are already worth less, that they are not whole, that they will never be enough because of who they are (and there are a whole lot of groups who have historically fallen into these categories and many that still do) to berate them with needing to confess repeatedly, often being admonished to do so by members of a group keeping them under thumb… all I can say is wow have we messed up.

So we come to Ash Wednesday, a day that is all about how fallen we are, at least historically. Oomf.

Remember how much God hates you, everybody. How badly you have always and will continue to mess up and look out for that wrath that comes at the end of the season…

Is that really the message we want everyone to remember?

Also, that’s some really poor and lazy theology.

In confirmation class, the question recently came up about who killed Jesus. Because, even though it is often subconsciously done, when we look for someone to blame, it is the easiest way to keep the focus away from ourselves. We can make God vengeful against everyone but us.

Except I told the younglings that while the Jewish high priests may have sought his death and the Romans may have physically carried it out, Christ was killed by each and every one of us. Each and every time we sin. All those ways we break each other down. Crush one another into pieces. Smash our neighbor’s bodies or lives against the rocks. Tear this group or that group down and blame them for such-and-such problem with the world today, acting as though we are not all responsible in some way, shape, or form.

So yes, on Ash Wednesday, we do need to confess. We need to remember that we are finite and our lives are fragile. But we also need to keep in mind that is not what we were created to be.

God drew us up from the dust of the earth, breathed life into us with awe-inspired and wonderful hands and then called us “good.” God chose us to bear God’s own image of love that we might share our lives with one another. And then God chose to bear our image, God-made-flesh, so that we could finally remember all that we had forgotten of what true love really looks like – giving one’s life so that another can finally find the fullness that was always meant to be.

Tangible love. That is what those ashes mark. Grace. Love. A promise that more is there.

Happy Lent.

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