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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

Image result for ash wednesday This is what Ash Wednesday looks like for most people. What it is--however-- is something completely different. Ash Wednesday is the day to remember that death is not the final destination of our journey with God by the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ.

Death does look like the end. I've seen quite a few dead people in my time, and it does look like the journey is over. Finito. Caput. There's no coming back from one, baby...but notice how that ash is formed on that young lady's forehead? That sign, my friends, is a cross. And a cross is a sign of a turning, a re-direction, a passing through from one time to another. The sign the ash is formed in makes all the difference in the world...

For example, the ash is not formed in circle. I get a kick out of the young, new evangelicals, who have discovered ritual. Many of these folks came of age in a Christian tradition devoid of ritual and other ancient spiritual practices. Nowadays, as their Christianity is aging right along with their bodies, they seek a Christian faith that is more than intellectual agreement with rationalizations about Christian beliefs. Ritual fits a bill for them, and they are so excited to discover the possibilities of a Christian faith, complete with ritual, that they go crazy in trying to explain their excitement, and talk about Ash Wednesday as completing some circle of life we are all in. The "imposition" of ashes (making the sign of the cross in ash) is really cool for that idea, I guess...

Unfortunately, for many of these newer-to-a-Christianity-with-ritual faith, they confuse the Christian tradition with Disney. Remembering we are dust is not the same as exclaiming the "circle of life." As true as the circle of life is, and great as the song is (see below), Ash Wednesday is NOT about the circle of life; that is, that all living beings die, and all dying beings contribute to living. In fact, Ash Wednesday and the imposition of ashes is directly AGAINST such a notion.

The Christian who receives the imposition of ash upon her forehead is witnessing to a reality that death is the end. Life will be over. There will be nothing. Unless...unless God is not through with you yet. The cross is the Christian symbol that God is not done with any of us yet, even when we die. Just as Jesus has life after his death (a crucifixion, which is where the symbol of the cross comes), so too ALL who gather in the power of the Holy Spirit have life after death. Christians call this the resurrection.

Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of God and the power of the Holy Spirit is crucial to this resurrected life because his death unlocked the door, so to speak. He opened for us the reality the lies before us all (and even for those who died before him), that God and the power of the Holy Spirit cannot be defeated by death. the love of God is not stopped by death (even if it appears that ways sometimes). The cross, not the ash, is the important ritual of Ash Wednesday. Yes, your body may die and return to the earth, but whatever makes you You, is still with God forever.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

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