I love Ash Wednesday! Avery (our 5 year old) loves Ash Wednesday, too. I miss not being in Kansas in order to go to a service with Avery and then enjoying brownies from Starbucks afterwards.
Ash Wednesday is a radical act, a jarring experience for the worshipper. We are reminded of our frailty in the midst of our fantasies of transcendence. In an age where one can nearly upload their consciousness to a cloud of memory and escape the limits of death, it is to our advantage that we gather around ashes and to be reminded of our limits are creatures before a loving Creator.
Ash Wednesday may be the only time we let a stranger touch our face as they place dirty ashes on our foreheads. Think about that, a stranger touching your forehead on any other occasion would be creepy. Ash Wednesday allows us to be disarmed, to be cracked upon to hear the voice of redemptive love.
Henri Nouwen’s prayer for Ash Wednesday is important:
“I truly want to follow you (Jesus), but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to those voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.”
To those of us who choose to live calculated and careful lives, Ash Wednesday initiates us into where we reflect on God’s reckless pursuit of a lost humanity. Ash Wednesday helps us to see that God not only raises the dead, but also raises the living.
Our celebration of resurrection at Easter needs to be proceeded by our reflection of death, including the dead places within ourselves. May we reflect with sobriety and hope this Lenten season.