Ever since I entered the Lutheran church, Ash Wednesday has been one of my favorite days in the church year. Maybe it has to do with coming to the Lutheran church when I was going through a profound depression as a teenager. Maybe it has to do with the sign of the cross on our foreheads that links us Christians together as we go back into the world. Maybe it has to do with the concrete nature of using a physical sign to convey a truth.
But I suspect that the main reason I am so attracted to this day is its honesty. You know, we walk through our lives, making small talk and speaking platitudes, talking about the weather and Linsanity and Downton Abbey, but when it comes down to it, there are very few moments that are fundamentally, deeply honest.
We feel this inner drive to be nice and sweet and look on the bright side. And sometimes that is really good. After all, being positive helps us in many ways. But at least once in a while, we need to get serious and admit our frailty, our pain, our neediness.
I think sometimes we cover up our pain thinking that God will not love us if we reveal who we truly are underneath the shiny paint. So--like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden--we hide, hide from the voice of God, from the nearness of God. We dare not let Him get too close.
That's why Ash Wednesday is such a breath of fresh air. It is maybe the one day in the whole year when we can get honest with ourselves and with God. It is the one day in the year when we can say, "I am a sinner and I am going to die." Those are the two things that are hardest to admit. But when we admit them, as Jesus said, "the truth will set us free." Admitting our brokenness means God can finally get in there to work some healing. And the first step of healing is knowing that despite every disgusting, ugly, despicable thing about us, God loves us. We may be dust, but we are dust that God loves. God can do amazing things with dust. He after all formed the first people from dust. And when we die and become dust again, He is able to raise us and make us new all over again.
In 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, Paul begs us, "We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." He then goes on to tell us that God made Christ sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. In other words, Christ wants to heal you, but in order for that to happen, you have to admit you have a problem. You have to admit the truth of Ash Wednesday: "I am a sinner and I'm going to die." Only then does Christ reach in and say, "Alright...finally you admit it. Now I will take that brokenness from you and give you all that is mine." Think of it like a marriage: When you get married, you move in and bring all of your separate stuff together. What is the husband's is now the wife's. What is the wife's is now the husband's. That's how it is with Christ. What is yours is sin, brokenness, death, the power of the devil. That is Christ's now. What is Christ's is God's righteousness, healing, and resurrection...and that is now yours.
Christians are people who have faced up to the fact that we have a problem...sin and death. And we are people who know Christ will one day do away with all of that and make everything new. But in the meantime, we have many trials and pains. Ash Wednesday is about that too. It is deciding that instead of walking away from your pain, you are going to walk through it. The people of Israel had to go through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land. Jesus had to go through the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness before His ministry. Paul and the apostles had to go through tremendous trials in their ministry. And yet, with them, we look honestly at the worst this world has to throw at us...we face up to it...and then we say with faith, "This is not all there is!" With Paul, we say, "(We are) sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." For in Christ, we have everything.