I hope you will be "marked by ashes" today. The sign of the cross on our forehead is a blessed humiliation.
Ash Wednesday is obscure to many who follow God's Son. It is the beginning of Lent when we reflect that Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. Before we rush to Easter Resurrection we need time to pause and wait and wonder. The sweetness of Easter must be savored through the bitter of Lenten sorrow for sin.
Marked by Ashes by Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)
Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day…
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.
This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes --
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.
On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you --
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.
For the last several weeks, the story of the Good Samaritan has been rolling around in my heart and mind and has been messing with my life experiences. I'm in the middle of teaching a 23-week series on the Parables of Jesus. The parables surprise and challenge; they get under your skin and they make you uncomfortable.
As a result of "living" in Jesus' parables, I've noticed that my breath prayer has changed. [i] I've found myself asking God to "RESCUE".
The parable of the Good Samaritan is familiar, too familiar. In truth, it has recently rocked my world.
A quick recap: A man walked through a dangerous territory where thieves and bad guys took advantage of the mountainous terrain to do evil. The man was robbed and beaten and thrown into a ditch and left for dead. A priest and a Levite (reputation of "good" guys) walked by but neither of them wanted to go into the ditch to help the man. A Samaritan (reputation of "bad" guys) saw the man, went into the ditch and cared for him, took him to an inn and paid for the man's care. (Look again at Luke 10:25-37 for the full story.)
Another part of my experience these weeks comes from Colossians 1.
For He (God) has RESCUED us from the dominion of darkness
and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son he loves.
In Him, (Jesus the Son) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.
When I became a Jesus-follower forty years ago, these words described God's mercy and grace to me. I was young, stupid, striving to find myself and my place in the world. I was in a ditch and God rescued me.
The ditch is always in a dangerous territory. It is where the dominion of darkness and the Enemy of our souls do all kinds of evil. When we are bloodied and beaten in body or soul, the only way out of the ditch is the mercy of God. So, in my 20s I asked God to RESCUE me, to forgive me and to redeem me. For all these years I've lived mercifully and graciously RESCUED and redeemed. I'm grateful.
Some implications --
So we pray: Lord, rescue us that we may accompany you as you rescue others. Triune God, RESCUE. Amen.
[i] Breath Prayer is the word or phrase we use to acknowledge God's continual presence and to confess our ongoing, moment-by-moment need of his mercy and grace. One's breath prayer is a gift from the Spirit and may change with one's life experiences. Instead of praying the name of Jesus, or my long-time favorite— "Unto you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; I put my TRUST in you." I've found myself asking God to "Rescue."