A couple years ago, following an Ash Wednesday service at our church, a group of friends filled up the tables at a late night diner. We joked and told stories. We ate greasy food and someone got a milkshake. Slowly all the conversations ended; everyone went home. This seems like an uneventful evening, but we participated in those seemingly mundane acts each with huge charcoal-smeared crosses on the middle of our foreheads. This has layers for me:
First, interesting that despite the somber marking and proclamation “From ashes to ashes and dust to dust” (declaring that we will all return to the earth from which we came) we have the ability to quickly transition back to jokes and hamburgers. Did we not fully process what just happened in the service?
I serve as a pastor at our church, and so I have applied ashes to elderly members of our community who now, years later, are no longer alive. They have fulfilled the calling, they have completed their time on earth, and have now returned to ashes. They are with God. We will die someday, maybe soon, maybe later.
The markings remind me what it means to be called out. For most Christians, we spend 364 days a year dressing in a way that does not set us apart from mainstream culture. Ash Wednesday provides me one evening of having people stare at my forehead and furrow their brows. What do their looks stir in me? Furthermore, what does my face do when I see a red marking or religious symbol on the foreheads of others throughout the year?
Ash Wednesday kicks off communal fasting. The American church is very bad at discussing and practicing fasting. Yet to fast well we must learn to fast in community. Fasting draws us into the heart of God through disciplined self-sacrifice. We approach the throne of God together in this time leading up to Easter.
Let's share in the depth of this season together, speaking boldly about things we normally look right past, whether they are buried in our souls or proclaimed on our foreheads.
Attend an Ash wednesday Service this week.
Discuss fasting with your family, roommates, or close friends.