Tomorrow we’re celebrating Ash Wednesday with a diverse group of people: some who have been coming to our Sunday night gatherings (which we’re calling "Christ Community" now), some who are part of Heartland, and Heartland’s senior high youth group!
One of the things I love about Ash Wednesday is how radically counter-cultural it is. You can’t even really try to make it "relevant" or cool… you’ve got ashes smeared on your forehead: you look kind of silly. Then the whole service is geared toward repentance and sorrow and mortality. I mean, where’s the fun in that? There’s really no way to "jazz it up" and that’s one of the reasons I think it’s important.
Often we talk a lot about making the Bible relevant, which is all fine and good as long as we’re talking about making the meaning of biblical texts clear to people. But too often what we end up trying to do is fit God into the story of our lives, as if He were an optional add-on that "enhances" my life or a therapeutic God who just wants to help me become a "better me". In reality, God is demanding a lot more than that. God is wanting to enfold us into His story, to make our lives "relevant" to the kingdom. So I don’t mind if the Bible seems like a strange book sometimes. I don’t mind if the themes of the liturgical calendar or the biblical text strike us as alien, because oftentimes that is simply a signal that our lives have yet to be formed into Christ’s image, into God’s story, and we need to struggle for awhile with it.
The call of Ash Wednesday, and Lent generally, is for us to turn our attention again toward God, and away from the sins that so easily steer us off course. Sometimes that feels strange and difficult. But I believe it’s part of following Christ, out of our comfortable idolatries and habitual sins, and into a new depth of life in Christ.
"Sorrow opens the door to many a blessing which indulgence usually destroys." – Thomas à Kempis