I confess I am not a big fan of Lent. I am more an Advent girl. Advent seems somehow more hopeful and festive than this annual journey to the cross we call Lent. However, in recent weeks I have begun developing a deep appreciation for Lent and its disciplines and particularly of the observance of this day, Ash Wednesday.
There seems something almost sacramental in this ancient ritual. There are visible means, ashes, coupled with the Word of God and while the rite does not offer us forgiveness of sins, we are marked with a cross-a reminder of the who and the how of our forgiveness.
VISIBLE MEANS- ASHES
I have learned a thing or two about ashes in the past few weeks. My brother and I walked through the home of our youth and found everything covered with soot and ash. Indeed certain things did not survive the fire at all but were consumed. This was both sobering and instructional as I was provided with an illustration of the Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 3:10-14.
"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward."
A bumper sticker popular a few years ago reads, "The one who dies with the most toys wins." That seems to be how we live these days but I want to tell you, all your toys will be turned to ash and the one who dies with the most toys still dies! Fire will test the quality of your work, of your life and only what
is done for Jesus, in Jesus, and through Jesus will last.
In the midst of sorting through the rubble of our childhood home and grieving the mother who taught me to love Jesus, I received a message from a former student now a thirty something mother of three. She said, "Miss Kyle, remember who and whose you are." I was thrilled that she remembered my saying that to her so many years ago, doubly thrilled because I was merely echoing my mother's words to a frightened teen-ager going off to college for the first time, me. My mother's legacy was not the soot covered stuff that was in that house. My mom lived with a view to eternity and so should we.
VISIBLE MEANS COMBINED WITH THE WORD OF GOD
"Ashes to ashes; dust to dust; dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." It was my task to transport the box carrying my mother's remains to the church on the day of her memorial service. As I set that beautiful box containing dust and ashes on the table I was weepy and so grateful that the Holy Spirit had awakened me that morning with the words of a song ringing in my heart and so I sang, "He makes beautiful things out of the dust; He makes beautiful things out of us."
This is the promise of Isaiah 61. He gives beauty for ashes.. So bring Him your ashes; the ashes of repentance or of dreams dried up or relationships burned-up... Bring Him your ashes and he will give you beauty instead. Pretty good trade I would say. Martin Luther said it this way,"God makes something out of nothing so if we remember that without Him we are nothing, he can make something out of us."
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
The box with my mother's remains had a cross on it. Tonight in a ritual vaguely reminiscent of your baptism your received a cross upon your forehead. Remember that part of the baptism rite? "Receive the sign of the cross both upon the forehead and upon the breast in token that you have been redeemed by Christ the crucified." The cross, a reminder that God is always at work redemptively. In the cross by, by the power of the cross the Apostle Paul writes, "For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality... (1 Corinthians 15:52-58) Read it for yourself!
My mom perished in a fire in Phoenix, Arizona and these words are our own personal legend of the Phoenix. Out of the ashes the Phoenix rises a new creation-even so shall we.
So this Lent, let's focus on the eternal and build a lasting legacy. Let's bring Him our ashes and expect beauty instead. Let's thank Him for the cross and allow the perishable to put on the imperishable.
"Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"