Ash Wednesday 2015. I only know that because my walking partner for Wednesdays texted to say she would need to reschedule our walk. Intrigued, I looked online for churches within a bike ride that held an Ash Wednesday service. And All Saints Catholic Church on 10th was where I pedaled to at noon. Crisp, bright, air made an invigorating 5-block ride and the parking lot was filling up as I locked my bike to an empty green bike rack. A little path through a garden-like area lead me to the large front doors where I was handed a paper about Lent and joined people of every age.
Wow! I could never be bored in this church! Built in the early 1900’s it houses history, art, and years of families have sat in these pews. There was so much to look at, from the many styles of stain glass windows to paintings covering nearly all the wall space. And the ceiling! Way too many golden stars to even count, but I could systematically count them if given enough Sundays especially if I allowed my mind to drift. I did not want to drift today. My desire is to connect with God, the same God that provides me with sunshine in the day and starts at night and lungs to breathe His air both inside and outside of the space we call sacred. It is He who I want to connect with.
High heels on newly restored wooden floors, hushed children’s questions, kneelers being put down and put back up again. No church bells, no incense, no organ. Ushers found seats for late-comers and the filling the church became full. And it was Wednesday, in the middle of the day.
A man with a robe and white hair began by saying this was a time for intentional change and concluded by repeating person-by-person, “remember you were dust and to dust you will return” as a dark smudge of ashes, in the form of a cross, was rubbed into the forehead of each person in line.
When I think about it, and I do, often, life is really short. What am I doing, or not doing, that makes the One that gives me life happy? In light of cremation becoming a popular after-death choice, ashes on the forehead in a church filled with people makes me think that apart from Jesus, are we not all walking dead people? I want life. Full life. Meaningful life. Purpose-filled and blessed life.
Familiar readings were read, and nothing added to them, from the prophet Joel, bits from the Psalms were spoken as a congregational response, then more readings: 2 Corinthians and parts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We were then encouraged not to take the wide way of the world but to follow Robert Frost, and Jesus before him, to take the path less traveled. Three areas of helpful change were expounded upon concerning prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I agreed with it all, I think most people that filled the church do too, but there is more to it than agreeing. In order for a meaningful change in these areas, or in other areas, action needs to come after belief. What will change me in these 40 days leading up to celebrating Jesus victorious over sin and death is actually praying, actually fasting, actually giving.
I left the empty church a little more full, grateful for the time to think about God’s love for me and increasing my desire to put thought into action. Specifically, really talk to God about the people and situations that fill my days. To give up anxiety, which takes more self-control then giving up chocolate and to choose to really depend on Him, for He cares for me. And as He cares for me, He also cares for others, may He use me to give to others needs too. Blessed to be a blessing happens when my life is connected to God, day-by-day.
Today is Ash Wednesday 2018. Many churches in my neighborhood will offer a variety of times to meet. One church even offers drive-thru ashes from 7-10 am. May we be mindful of God the author of life and love on today Valentine’s Day as intentionally many will focus on the life of Jesus at the culmination of His life lived on this earth. Love is so good.
Back to the Blessing Book….
A Hard Heart toward God’s Blessing
About half a century later Joseph died. Joseph’s death concludes the Genesis record and the first of many chapters in God’s Story. Years passed and a new leader emerged in the Story; Moses. Family heritage is important to God as we will often see in listed genealogies. It is interesting to know that Moses was a great-grandson of Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. The youngest of three children, Moses was born in Egypt, rescued from the Nile River as a baby, grew up in the Egyptian palace, spent years in the outback as a shepherd for his father-in-law, and would be used by God to deliver His people from the hand of the Egyptians to be brought into the land of blessing and promise.
This would not be an easy rescue mission but a very fascinating one as God’s provision, protection and blessing continually guided His people. By this time in history the Egyptians do not remember Joseph and all the good he had done for them. Even as slaves in the land, the Israelite community grew and because they were seen as a threat, they were mistreated. Moses, as God’s spokesperson, asked that all the Israelites be given permission to leave to worship Yahweh and this new Pharaoh did not want to lose his workforce. Pharaoh said, “I’d sooner send you off with God’s blessings than let you go with your children.” Once again, Moses and Aaron (his brother and ministry partner) were thrown out of Pharaoh’s sight. Pharaoh, with his hard heart, did not get a blessing from God and another plague, this time of locusts, filled his land. God, may our hearts be soft to Your ways in our days. Amen.
Exodus 10:10a MSG