Ash Wednesday and the Beauty in Burnt Things
It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, when we remember Jesus’ 40 days and 40 nights of fasting before His crucifixion. It’s a somber day that ushers in a season of self-reflection that honors Christ’s brutal sacrifice–and still, I’m excited for it.
Hear me out.
At Ash Wednesday ceremonies at churches around the world, people use the burnt palm leaves from last year’s Palm Sunday to make the ashes that will be smeared across people’s foreheads in the symbol of a cross. Burning palm leaves–the remnants of Christ’s triumphant return to Jerusalem where worshippers laid palms at his feet–represents the destruction of our hopes. When Christ was crucified, it was a shock to His disciples who thought He’d overthrow the Roman government and set up a Jewish kingdom. From Palm Sunday to the Friday when Jesus was crucified, the disciples’ hopes turned to ash.
I can relate.
My life is not the way I hoped it would be today. It wasn’t all good just a week ago, but I had hope. I believed my prayers to God had been answered in the affirmative and I was feeling a shift in the wind. Things were looking up for ole District Diva. And now they’re not again. I’m sad. I’m disappointed. I’m confused. Did I not hear God correctly? Did I ask for the wrong thing? What in the world am I supposed to do with all these ashes?!
Smear them on my forehead, I guess.
Which is why I’m excited about Lent. Today, I’m going to go to a church in lower Manhattan and participate in an Ash Wednesday service. A minister will take their thumb and sign the cross to my forehead in the ashes of my burnt up hopes and dreams. And it will be a start for me to look at God in a different way, and therefore, look at myself in a different way.
The disciples misunderstood what Christ was going to do for them–for all of us. They wanted an earthly kingdom, but as Laura Story sings on her song, “Blessings,” God “loves us way too much to give us lesser things.”
So I’m giving up lesser things for Lent. For me, these 40 days of decrease will be an opportunity to detach from the things the world tells me I need and instead cling to Christ as all I need. I’m rebudgeting to see which expenses I can do without, I’m letting go of things that have proven to mean me no good (goodbye, dairy), I’m releasing these grandiose dreams I had for who I thought I should be or needed to be in order to get the things the world says I should want. I’m opening up my hands and letting these lesser things slip right on through.
Christ’s declaration over our lives is that we are already worthy and already enough. Before we were even thought of, God died for us–who we were, who we are and who we will be–because our life is enough to make us worthy of God’s perfect love.
There’s no achievement we can attain, no glory we can seek for ourselves that will make us more worthy or deserving than we are right now. So if we’re already important, we’re already valued and we’re already perfectly loved and wholly accepted by the God of this universe, what in the world are we chasing after?
As I decrease my incessant need for human validation, I am no longer a slave to it. Where I decrease, the spirit of the Lord increases. And where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
For a person who just wants to get free, that’s reason enough to be excited.