Feb 09

There's something on your face

This coming Wednesday, I will go to a service where ashes will be marked into the symbol of the cross on my forehead. After this service, I will go to restaurants, the grocery store, the coffee shop, the drive-thru line and various other places and watch as people stare at me awkwardly, wondering what is smudged on my face. I must admit, I get a little self-conscious and uncomfortable on this day. There is dirt on my forehead, and it’s clear to others around me. More so than most other days of the year, a sign of my Christian beliefs are on the outside – exposed, imperfect and obvious.
This service that we will have on Wednesday is called Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year's Palm Sunday, and placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words "repent, and believe in the Gospel" or "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the season in the church called Lent - the 40 days leading up to Easter.
It’s during this time that we remember Jesus going into the wilderness for 40 days and fasting. Jesus was in a barren and dry place that is not too different than the current winter season of our area, when the trees are barren and the air is dry and cold. What I love about this season is that it calls me away from distraction and noise to know God more fully in the person of Jesus.
I can think of no better way for me to truly learn how to be more like Jesus than to put a symbol on my forehead that is obvious to others around me. The dirty smudge on my forehead pushes me to get over myself, to move past insecurities of what others might think of me, and to wear imperfection and vulnerability on my sleeve (or rather my face). It reminds me that I am human, that I am full of flaws and weakness and yet God loves me anyway; so much so, that God would send us Jesus in a human form so we would understand just how much God knows and loves humanity.
This week, I will go to these services and put the smudged sign of the cross on my face, resist the urge to wipe it off, and let it be a sign to me and to others that God works in the barren and dry places in our lives. God makes beautiful things, even out of the dust. Jan Richardson always says things in way that speak to me, so I invite you to cling to her words and come get the smudge of the cross on your face with me on Wednesday.
Blessing the Dust
For Ash Wednesday
Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?
This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.
This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.
This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.
So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.
—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons
Before Wednesday, Sunday will be here! We will conclude our series on Strength and Weakness by talking about the lessons we learn in our weakness and failure.
I also want you to join with me in praying for the Richardson Police Department and their families, following the tragic death of Officer David Sherrard. Officer Sherrard has, at times, been one of the off-duty officers who is here at FUMCR on Sunday mornings. This Sunday we will pray for his family, our law enforcement community, and our city as we grieve together. We will have prayer blankets for Officer Sherrard's wife and two children. Will you stop right now and offer a prayer for Officer Sherrard's family and friends, for the Richardson Police and their families, and for the other man who was killed and his family? In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone.
See you Sunday,

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