A friend asked me last week, “Did you give up anything for lent?” I told them I had not. In fact I have only done this once in my life. I didn’t even know when lent was. It began last week, the day my friend asked the question.
When it comes to this kind of thing I always feel a bit irreligious…kind of like I am a secular believer. I was not raised with this kind of spiritual emphasis. The churches I attended as a kid did not place a priority on this…okay they might have and I just didn’t pay attention. Then, again, in those days anything that smacked of High Church or Catholicism was dismissed. The churches I Pastored I did not provide this kind of thing. I seldom provide for Ash Wednesday, Mandy-Thursday, Good Friday Services, or…well it just didn’t happen often.
There was one year at Arcade Wesleyan Church where a staff member asked to conduct an Ash Wednesday service. I let him. It was then I learned that typically the ashes used for this were the burnt remains of the palm branches from the preceding year’s Palm Sunday Service. I think we had used plastic and even if we had used the real thing, I am pretty sure they ended up in the dumpster located at the back of the property.
We did have ashes. Not sure where they came from; possibly Jim Slutzi’s pipe? We did the cross on the forehead and everything. I didn’t like it. I had no desire to have an ash cross on my forehead. Fortunately, the ashes did not adhere well. It was mostly gone by the time I arrived home that night. I am sure hanging my head out the car window driving home had little to do with it.
I have never been one for public displays of religiosity. Religious bummer stickers, Christian fish, WWJD wrist bands, Christian-oriented jewelry (actually any jewelry beyond a wedding ring), and cross ash embossed foreheads hold little appeal for me. I always thought it was my rebellion against outward displays of surface spirituality. But could it be I am not bold in my faith? I like to think it is the former, but there might be an argument made for the latter.
In any case, in this Lenten season, I am deeply grateful to Jesus. He loved me enough to go to the cross for my sins. He loved me enough to accept me where I was. He loved me enough not to leave me where he found me. He loved me enough to wrap his life intimately around mine. He loves me enough to accept me with all of my warts…and there are plenty.
I like to believe that how I conduct my life and relate to others is a visible display of this. I like to believe the things I value, what I think on, and my “try my best” responsiveness to his Spirit reflects this. I like to believe THAT I believe indicates my loyalty pledge.
Frankly, I am not sure that an ash cross, washing feet or a contrite spirit is a valid display of anything. I guess that is where grace enters in. Whatever we may do, however we may choose to display our faith we are desperately dependent on God’s grace. Therein lays the message of the cross and the validation of the resurrection. Even broken people can live in wholeness. And as, one broken person to another, I am deeply grateful for this reality of Easter.