Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ash Wednesday

A bit of a departure from the update. I think a lot of things that had been kicking around in my head are finding voice today. This is one of those.

Arthur sent our team here an email recently, just making us aware that Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, and wondering if we would want to do something for Lent, as individuals or as a community. I had intended to spend time tonight thinking and praying about what that might be for me. I've never really observed Ash Wednesday or given something up for Lent, and feel like this year would be a good time to start--to mark the season in some way. I got distracted tonight by working on some donations info and settling some accounting stuff online (ugh), but before I logged off for the night, Melissa had sent a couple links with some further information on Ash Wednesday. And I started typing. =)

While reading Psalm 51 last night, I began thinking about just how public David's sin was. His adultery with Bathsheba was something that he took desperate measures to conceal. But his sin--and his repentance--were ultimately recorded in the Bible in both narrative and poetry. What was secret and concealed became known and recorded for all who followed after. One of the things David is known for is that very public sin. I wondered how it would feel to be known, for the rest of your life and thousands of years afterwards, for such a public example of sin.

As I read this, the following stuck out to me:

"Ashes marked on the forehead of worshippers were not given to everyone, but only to the public penitents who were brought before the church. Much like Hester Prynne bearing her scarlet letter, these open and notorious sinners were marked publicly with the sign of their disgrace.

As time went on, others began to show their humility and their affection for the penitents by asking that they, too, be marked as sinners. Finally, the number of penitents grew so large that the imposition of ashes was extended to the whole congregation in services similar to those that are observed in many Christian churches on Ash Wednesday."

This reminded me that whether it's known publicly or not, we are all like David. We may try desperately to hide it, but we are all sinners. Derek Webb sings about "trading sins for others that are easier to hide"--a phrase that resonates with me all too well. As long as others don't know what I'm hiding, it's okay. Somehow it's okay that God knows--just as long as others don't. And I think that's probably what David got caught up in--a desperate attempt to keep his sin quiet. It had disastrous results. But the whole debacle, recorded in scripture, continues to remind me of my own attempts to conceal, and my own deep need for forgiveness.

"We who will bear the ashes upon our foreheads stand with those whose sins may be more public, but not, according to the Scriptures, more grievous to the heart of God. And so we make our confessions. . . . If you only knew the secrets of my heart, if you only knew the sins that I am capable of contemplating, if you only knew some of the schemes I have considered – and of course God does know – then you would know that I, too, am a sinner."

At this season leading up to Easter, I'm looking for something tangible to remind me, daily, of my need for Christ--of my need for the sacrifice of Good Friday and the victory of Easter morning. I pray that for you, too--that God would remind you of not only Ash Wednesday, but also of Easter Sunday.

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