“I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand,
wonders beyond my comprehension.
My ears had heard about you,
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore, I relent and find comfort
in dust and ashes.” -Job 42:2-3
It’s such a weird and wonderful day. It’s Ash Wednesday, when Christians receive a cross drawn in ash on our foreheads. Wearing the cross is common practice for many Christians, but usually it’s as jewelry or possibly a t-shirt. But today it’s a smudge on our faces.
On the other days, our cross wearing might come across as a little smug or holier-than-thou to some. But today, it just looks like, “Uh, you’ve got something there, on your forehead.”
What’s more, the message of the day is pretty intense. “You are dust, and to dust you will return” or “repent and believe the gospel” is what is said traditionally to the person receiving ashes. We might as well say: “You’re gonna die, so live right quick.” Every other day of the year we pussyfoot around death, say people “passed away” instead of died, and take our vitamins, trying to avoid death altogether if we can. But today it’s right out there. We die, so what’s really important in our lives? We might not have until next Ash Wednesday to act on that, so we best do it now.
And this is the wonderful part alongside the weird part of Ash Wednesday. Today especially we remember that we are only human. Humans who die and hurt and screw up. We acknowledge that there’s no time to lose: we need to forgive and to be forgiven, by each other and by God. We admit that we will not live on this earth forever so how we live right now matters. And we confess that life and death are out of our hands. There is only One who can hold us in life and beyond death, only one whose hands we are in ultimately. The God of Jesus who went to the cross to overcome its terror with forgiveness, grace, truth, humility, and power holds us forever. How wonderful to rest in God’s care knowing we are eternally held. That kind of peace helps us to live well the one life we’ve got.
Happy Weird and Wonderful Ash Wednesday, dear friends.