Let us pray:
Lord of life, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, that as we hear these words they may become the Living Word for us, to the glory of our living Lord Jesus Christ. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
So, I was watching television a few weeks ago when I saw this scene. There’s a main character who’s running from two members of the Irish mob. He goes into a church to hide, and the two mobsters have the following conversation:
Liam: They’re in the church!
Connor: Oh, I’m not just busting into a church to kill two men.
Liam: What if they’re in the church basement? If they’re in the church basement, they we can kill ’em.
Connor: So you’re implying that the church is holy but the church basement isn’t?
Liam: They don’t say mass in the basement. The church basement is not holy ground.
Connor: So, what, it goes holy ground, mmmm, the basement, holy ground?
Liam: So, you’re not coming in with me.
Connor: We’ll wait right here. And we’ll, I don’t know, shoot the courier when he comes out. You can call Callahan [the boss] if you want, but I am not goin’ into that church!*
This may be a highly entertaining conversation, but… how often do we have a similar attitude? We see church as being all about rules. We debate rules without seeing the bigger picture. Or we worry about what others may think. We see church as about doing everything just so, about projecting an image of perfection for all to see.
But Ash Wednesday makes that impossible. We began by confessing, in great detail. We began by receiving ashes, with their reminder of our coming deaths. But the ashes aren’t just about our deaths so much as our very human natures, about the ways that we sin, the ways that we fall short and hurt one another, the ways that we have cracked and chipped and flinched and all of the masks that we wear to hide that. For the ashes we’ve received remind us that we are all the same. They remind us that we are all broken, hurting people who have turned to God for comfort and healing. They remind us that we seek salvation and forgiveness in God, in the company of God’s people, just as we together received these ashes.
And we continued today with Scripture and prayer. They remind us of our hypocrisy and sin, and of God’s grace. They remind us that we confess, that our confessions are accepted, not because of our own penitence, but because of God’s mercy in hearing our confessions. They remind us that our faith is about so much more than going through the motions, about doing everything “right”–that God longs for our hearts to be made right. They remind us that we are called to love one another, but not so that everyone can see and approve. We are called to love one another.
And so let us remember. The ashes we wear will fade, but let us remember, let us see ourselves as we are: sinful, broken, struggling–but also redeemed and healed. For our God is a God who can bring new life out of ashes, healing out of death.
And so let us trust in God’s grace.
*This scene comes from Leverage.