If you read part one earlier today, then you might be able to skip down a ways, I am including parts of part one …
While we gather over zoom tonight, we’ll be reflecting on the messiness of life and ashes…the impact that the messiness of sin in our lives has for us and even the lives of the people around us.
Hopefully, the ashes on the burlap square you received have remained that you’ll be able to smudge some on your forehead during the service. And you if you aren’t able to join us on zoom tonight, you are welcome to read Psalm 51, this morning and carry it with you as you
If you are fortunate enough to have someone in the house with you, you might consider taking turns to place the ashes on the other persons forehead as you say the words Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
There is something about another person looking into our eyes, seeing us and our vulnerability as we are reminded of our brokenness.
The following reflection is something I wrote last year, the morning after Ash Wednesday…
It’s noon on Thursday…last night was Ash Wednesday. I was gently reminded this is why clergy wear all black on Ash Wednesday … I had on a sweater that had some light purple and there was a big ole splotch of black all over it, surprisingly, I didn’t care.
Upon getting home after the service, I spent time washing my hands and again this morning scrubbing and rinsing and what I thought was a decent job of getting the ashes washed out. I just looked closer at my hands to discover that there are still ashes clinging and stuck under the thumb nail…I immediately wondered which of the many folks yesterday that I made the sign of the cross on their forehead it was from.
The reality is that we don’t like to talk about sin, we don’t like to talk about how our actions, words, inactions and silence impacts one another. How I live, impacts you and how you live, impacts me. How I show up in a room, spills over into your life and how you show up in a space, spills into mine. This is community, this is the body, connected and it is sometimes messy.
Ash Wednesday for some reason always reminds me of this … maybe it’s because the ashes are messy. Maybe its because once the ashes make their way to our foreheads, we forget that they are there, rub our foreheads out of anxiety or stress or because there’s an itch and now the ashes are smeared around AND if that’s not enough … all over our hands. Then before we can wash our hands or think to wash the dirt off, we pick up a piece of paper, we shake someone’s hand or give a hug and now our ashes, our brokenness, our stuff has spilled over into another persons’ life…this is how our lives and how we live impacts the lives of our neighbor, our family, our friends, the people around us. And often times we do this without even realizing it’s happening.
A messy life is self-isolating as we tend to hunker down and keep to ourselves. An exposed messy life can be isolating in a way that when we become vulnerable, when we are willing to share our brokenness, people don’t know what to do or how to respond, so they hold back and wait in the distance until we are cleaned up. If you’ve ever gone to the grocery store after receiving ashes and forgotten they were there, you know what I’m talking about. People look at you, then look away. They don’t want to get what we have all over them, so they politely say hello, back away with closed arms and hands and quietly remind themselves to NOT touch their forehead.
~~Today, a year later, I re-read this reflection and think of the Zulu word ubuntu – I am because you are. I am who I am, because you are who you are, and together we can either build up or block and tear down one another, we can experience life draining or life giving experiences.
Lent is a time in which we are invited to pause, reflect and look deep into our lives to see what sin might be lingering in our lives that we might need to distance ourselves from. Maybe this year, we can ask ourselves the question what is it in my life that is leaving traces or smudges of harm and pain in my life and the lives of the ones around me? The traces and smudges that are not only draining the life and joy out, but keeping me distant, isolated and hindering how I might interact with God – who loves, pours grace, peace and hope into my life?
The Psalmist in Psalm 51 writes,
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
then you will delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
David, after being approached by Nathan about his decision to sleep with Bathsheba, and the profound impact that it had on the lives around him, did some pretty hard soul searching. This Psalm was his prayer. He realized his own brokenness, and how it affected the people around him. And just as I went home that night last year to rinse the ash residue from my sweater and my hands hoping it would come clean, David cried out asking God to rinse and wash his inner most being of the sin and brokenness from his life.
This year, I wonder … in the life of Covid-19 while we are still remaining socially distant and safe, in a life mid and even post-vaccine for some, that even while we will continue to mask up and remain distant, I wonder how we might journey through this season not to sacrifice more things, as it appears we’ve all sacrificed enough this past year and not to give up something for the hope of losing a few pounds … that’s not what Lent is about.
But I wonder, what if … what if we begin to take a look at our lives, the way we live, the way we act or respond and even the way we don’t respond and trace back the smudge of ashes to ponder the impact our actions or inactions might have on our lives, our relationship with God and with the people around us. And then after we read and re-read Psalm 51, open our hands to wash them and pray this Psalm as we wash our hands, … we might be able to let go of the smudges of soot we’ve been holding on to so tightly, or that we can’t seem to shake…only to then be open to receive a gift of love and grace and refreshing, life-giving moments with God who loves, and with the people whom we interact with throughout the day.
The thing about the sin and brokenness in our lives … it doesn’t matter how careful we are, it still finds a way to permeate our lives. This year, in preparing the burlap squares, I prepared them safely with a mask on and gloves to eliminate contact as much as possible. After finishing a set of squares, I went to replace the glove…only to discover my fingers were still covered with the messiness of ashes! Repenting the mess, the sin in our lives isn’t a once and done thing, but a continual learning and working for change, change of our heart, of our lives in hopes that we will be able to live and lean more faithfully into the call to love God, and to love our neighbor. It’s a journey…
It is my hope and prayer that throughout this Lenten season, you might be able to pause each day, take a look at that small burlap square, maybe even pick it up … then go wash your hands and pray the words of David from Psalm 51. You might even need to wash your hands again, and this time be sure to get under your fingernails…that stuff likes to be difficult and it takes work to wash it away!
As you journey through this Lenten season, know that you are not alone, that you are loved, that God’s grace and love are abundant ~ and may the peace of Christ be with you today and always
oh, I almost forgot, what am I giving up this year for Lent? Nothing. I have been thinking about how this past year has been a challenge in so many ways for many of us already. As to how I plan to journey through this season of Lent? One step at a time, washing my hands, praying the psalms, and becoming increasingly aware how my interactions might be able to offer more life-giving grace, love and joy and less pain and hurt. To be mindful of my words and actions or silence and inactions …