Ash Wednesday 2018, noon service

At the end of the service,

When the ashes are crossed on my forehead

With the words, “Remember that you are dust,

And to dust you shall return,”

The liturgy plunges bone-deep

And a strange weariness overcomes me.

I sit in this for a moment,

But then remember:

There is much still to do in this day.

Decisions to be made,

Lessons to be taught,

School pickups,

Dinner to fix,

And another service, for goodness sake!

Action, energy are needed.

Caffeine is probably needed!

Yet in this moment, a memory arises,

From another Ash Wednesday several years before.

Following the imposition, the mother in the row ahead of me

Picked up her small ones from childcare

And returned for the end of the service.

All was well, till her son noticed the cross on her forehead,

The cross on my forehead,

The cross on the foreheads of every adult surrounding him.

He turned to his mother, and I heard,

“Where’s my cross? Why don’t I have a cross?”

and nothing could comfort him till my husband,

one of those who’d imposed the ashes that night,

marked the child’s forehead, too, with his still-darkened thumb.

To want the mark of humanity,

To long for the symbol that announces to the world,

we are but “frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,”*

Incapable,

Inadequate,

In dire need of mercy—

This desire seems nearly the complete opposite of

That which caused the first human hands to pluck forbidden fruit,

To doubt Goodness himself,

To seek equality with the Creator,

Independence from the Breath that gave Life,

Supposed self-sufficiency.

Oh, yes, give me ashes,

Give me symbol,

Grant me humility,

The posture, before God and man,

Of complete and utter need.

For then your mercy, too, can plumb bone-deep,

Heart-deep,

Soul-deep.

Breath can bring dust to life again,

So that all I am, all I do,

May be known and seen

As Your greatest grace.

 

*a line from the hymn “O Worship the King,” which we sang in early morning prayer at Austin Corinthian Baptist Church this very morning!

 

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Good Friday: three things

frozen grassFirst: a link to a piece on The Well Blog (a blog produced by InterVarsity specifically for women) titled “My Sacrilege, Our Sacrilege” by Ashley Van Dragt. Here’s an excerpt to tempt you to click the link and read the whole thing–which, if you want to know the “moment” she refers to in the first sentence, you will have to do.

Over the course of Lent, I’ve kept coming back to that moment. I keep going back to it because I came to realize that there are words for it.

“Crucify him.”

And these are the words that get at the significance of Lent, of Good Friday. It’s the time of year when we remember Jesus on the cross. And at the end of it, on one horrible night we carry ourselves and our preoccupations and our snotty-nosed children to church to mentally put Jesus on the cross and into the grave. And we say together the most hellish sounding words: 

“Crucify him!”

And it’s profane and terrible…and important.

Because — my God, my God — we have indeed done something wrong.

Here’s the link again–so you don’t even have to scroll up!

Second: Today I went to our church’s Stations of the Cross service. I wrote a post about what emerged for me from this service last year. This year two things were fresh and new:

1. Jesus’ heart for US–WHILE while enduring SO much pain and suffering. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” he said, and then he interacted with the thief on the cross. “I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Oh, the heart of God revealed in these moments! Forgiveness beyond what we can imagine!

2.  This prayer–so simple, yet coupled with the heart of God, so powerful: O blessed Lord Jesus, be gracious to us and all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring us home again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith; who now live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Third, this is a link to “Good Friday Blues,” a piece published at Christianity Today. It’s about Texas gospel bluesman Blind Willie Johnson’s recording of “Dark Was the Night—Cold Was the Ground” with Columbia Records in 1927. Though the song has no lyrics, it is about Good Friday, with the title borrowed from an 18th century English hymn by Thomas Haweis:

Dark was the night, cold was the ground
on which the Lord was laid;
His sweat, like drops of blood, ran down;
In agony he prayed.

The article about Blind Willie Johnson tells part of his story and contains a link to a recording of this song. Both are wonderful.

 

our second Advent

Here are the four beautiful girls Dave and I took to The Nutcracker in downtown Chicago (with the Joliffe Ballet--woohoo!) last Friday. It was a much-anticipated event, and it did not disappoint. Best part for Dave and me: watching the girls' faces as they watched the ballet!

Here are the four beautiful girls Dave and I took to The Nutcracker in downtown Chicago (with the Joliffe Ballet–woohoo!) last Friday. It was a much-anticipated event, and it did not disappoint. Best part for Dave and me: watching the girls’ faces as they watched the ballet! The boys spent the night with friends–which they said was the better deal! 

Just past 7 on Christmas morning Jake came into our bedroom—we’d said the digital clock could not have a 6 at the front—to announce that he, Patrick, and Maddie were awake.

As Dave and I sloshed mouthwash, Jake chattered, mostly about presents. Then, in the middle of his ramble, he announced, ““Christmas and Easter are the BEST! They’re God’s plan of redemption.”

Well put and true, though we still laughed at the way he said it.

It is now two days after Christmas, our celebration of the Savior’s birth. We anticipated Christmas through Advent, and then we will expect Good Friday and Easter through Lent. As Jake said: The whole picture of God’s capital-R Redemptive Plan.

Advent means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” Lent is a “season of penitence and fasting in preparation for Easter.” The only reason we are able to anticipate or prepare is because we know the outcome. We know the full scope of the story. So even our Lent preparation is tinged with hope, with expectancy of joy at the end.

But the Redemption begun at Christmas, finished on Good Friday, confirmed at Easter, still has a final chapter. This final chapter will end all tears, all injustice, all war. It will dethrone evil and establish God as the visible King of Kings and Christ as the Prince of Peace.

It will make us individually and collectively right and unbroken.

But this second Advent, second arrival, has not yet happened.

We still wait for it.

It is a waiting sustained by a sure hope, but this is often hard to remember.

For though the hope is certain, we know very little about the details. How could all that we see in the world around us, in our very lives—how could we ourselves, broken and flawed as we are—be part of this final Redemption?

Paul calls it “seeing through a glass, darkly.”

We are in many ways like the people of Israel during the first Advent, unable to see that the promises of old were about to unfold in tiny little Bethlehem—unable to see that Roman occupation, a travel edict, a young girl, a loving, faithful carpenter—and a slew of other details and people we know nothing of—could be used to usher in the Incarnation.

Perhaps the details of our lives are such that we, too, wonder if we are of any purpose in the Majestic Plan. Perhaps we, too, have tried to silence our soul-whispers of grand desire and settled for “the best we can make of life.” Perhaps we are going through heartache that makes us moan and cry out “Why?”

That is the reality of our earth-life. Uncertain at best, wailing at worst—waiting, waiting—because there must, must be more.

We must cling to the promise that there is. That the Promise Himself will return and shed light on this world so that the purposes of all that went before will be revealed. We will be amazed at how all of our lives, even the smallest details, was being used in God’s Plan.

Let’s not be like the sleepers in Bethlehem. As Christ was born yards from their beds, they slumbered and then woke the next morning with no difference in perspective.

They missed the Miracle.

If we fail to cling to God’s sovereign goodness (such a beautiful mystery—that in God “sovereign” and “goodness” are inseparably linked), we, too, will miss miracles, particularly the everyday ones of relationship and personal growth. We will lose sight of Purpose.

Anna and Simeon waited for years for the first Advent. There must have been times when they felt they waited in vain, when it was lonely and painful and hard.

But at the end of it, the Purpose they held in their arms shed light on the purposes of every one of their past moments.

So in this long period of the second Advent, let us wait and endure with the understanding that God’s Plan incorporates even our heartache, even our daily grind. Though we are in the dark involving the purposes, He is not.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. I Corinthians 13:12, KJV

Glory and Goodness: a sure hope.