Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

When Grace Stirs Up the Dust

On Ash Wednesday, they got my order wrong at Starbucks.

I had taken my cup back to my seat before I realized it, and hesitated, pausing there in my black dress which I thought I would wear, being appropriate to the day. I didn’t yet have the kiss of ash on my forehead, but had found a service to attend that evening. And I have been considering what to give up for the forty forthcoming days.

But sitting in the corner of the coffee shop, it suddenly seemed absurd to me that dust should deserve a vanilla rooibos tea latte.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return…

These bones are on borrowed time. I may decorate them to show my youth, but this frame is mortal. I remember when my muscles tie themselves into knots around my spine, when news of a celebrity death starts trending on Twitter, when I flinch in fear at sudden swerves in traffic.

We tend to remember the Fall in the garden as an event, a swift plummet, but ever since we fall in slow motion. Especially when we are young and in good health, we rarely realize gravity’s slow and silent pull toward the end.

Which makes me wonder, why give gifts to dying children? 

It almost seems unfathomable. I woke up cozy that morning in my house that I own with my husband whom I love. I drove to Starbucks in my Jetta, propped my new boots up on a comfy armchair to sit back and enjoy a customized beverage, wholly superfluous to my nutritional diet and needs.

Impossible, that I should be entitled to any of this. My life is overrun with privileges.

Ashes remind me that I don’t deserve it; that it is a gift. But on the other side of these ashes, the God I love stands to resurrect, to bring to life, to make things new.

I held my steaming cup in hand, and knew that I am blessed.

How does Lent shape your perspective? Are you doing anything this year to observe it such as fasting, new disciplines, reflection, etc.? I’d love to know!

The Inconvenience of Lent

[This post was originally published on Relief Journal's blog, and I'm happy to say our church now incorporates communion into the service]

In our American culture of drive-through coffee, instant Twitter feeds, and video on demand, we prize immediacy. We like to check our email on our touchscreen phone as soon as it hits our inbox, grab lunch to-go, and download live-streaming news. We are a nation of busy professionals, parents, and students living under the banner of “carpe diem,” driven by the idea that there’s no time like the present.

This “now” syndrome certainly has advantages, motivating us to work hard and invest fully in whatever we’re doing, but what happens when we apply our instant-culture values to spirituality?

I once had a bizarre experience with communion that made me consider this question. After months of exhausting church-searching, my husband and I finally found a church where we wanted to stay. It’s a contemporary kind of church, the kind that has a graphic designer on staff and a coffee bar out in the hall, and we came because we like the teaching and the small groups. But you have to understand, the church we went to before we moved was a liturgical church, the kind with Kierkegaard quotes in every other sermon and weekly communion. So we knew we’d have to make some adjustments at our new church.

But this is what I did not expect: communion that is served before the service, an addendum tacked onto and separate from the worship service. So we set our alarms a little earlier, entered the sanctuary, and found only a fraction of the congregation had shown up. The pastor said a prayer for this handful of early-risers, and at his invitation we filed up front and received the elements, and then it was over. The whole ordeal took literally five minutes. There was no time of confession before receiving the sacrament. There was no benediction afterwards, charging us to go forth bearing Christ into the world. There was no community, only a yawning faithful few. There was no ritual, no careful unfolding of holiness.

It was like grabbing Christ’s blood of the covenant, His outpouring for the world, in a Styrofoam to-go cup. It was a sacrament dictated by convenience, quickly squeezed in between other items on the agenda, and left out of the greater context of cosmic redemption.

The problem with an instant culture, and an instant church, is that a preoccupation with the present diminishes our ability to see seasons, to see story, to observe the unfolding of time. This is the pivotal idea of the sacrament of communion: Christ asks us to remember Him by taking the bread and wine (Luke 22:19), and to anticipate the future when we will eat and drink with Him face to face (Matt. 26:29).

As we now enter the season of Lent, we enter a time of waiting. There is no immediacy or convenience here. But there is a story of cosmic proportions unfolding, as we take the forty days of Lent to remember, to walk through the events of the life of Christ: the temptation in the desert, the agony of Good Friday, the silence and sorrow of Holy Saturday, and the joyful victory of Sunday morning.

It is often difficult for us to lay down our gadgets and agendas to just sit for a while, quiet our souls, and dwell with God. And yet, He laid down everything for us, making Himself “nothing” and emptying Himself to the point of death (Phil. 2:7-98).

In his beautiful poem“Seven Stanzas at Easter,” John Updike writes of the agony of the cross, “Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, for our own convenience…” As we cross the threshold of Ash Wednesday, let us reflect sincerely and sorrowfully on Christ’s suffering for us, so that on Easter morning, our hearts will grasp the incredible joy in His resurrection.

How do you find preparing yourself for Easter through Lent an inconvenience? How do you find it a blessing?

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