Thursday, February 18, 2021

To Rise from the Ashes

I was kind of dreading Ash Wednesday this year.

The season of Lent always has been special to me. I can remember as a kid going along with the "giving something up" practice, thinking of it as a kind of game. I'd appreciate and understand it on another level years later. And with that understanding has come a deepening of my observance.

When I became a pastor, Lent was always a time that I carefully crafted. I would strive to translate what I've found meaningful about this season to the people I serve. I think I mostly did that, albeit imperfectly.

So this year, almost a year into virtual worship due to COVID and almost a year removed from being entrusted with a faith community to see through all that has happened, I wondered what this would be like. Would the day with all its changed circumstances and altered and abbreviated customs feel the same? Or would this only be a series of painful reminders of what no longer is?

If I can sum up one lesson from yesterday, it's that intentionality is necessary to get what you need out of such observances. Every member of every church I've been a part of already knows this, but it was a new lesson for someone who no longer comes to these things by default.

I drove to the church I'm now attending to receive "drive through" ashes in their parking lot. Not only did I receive a cross on my head and a short blessing, but also a small metal coin with an angel as a token. The encounter was brief, but was just the gesture I was seeking.

Later in the day, I helped with a preschool karate class at our dojo. Multiple children asked me about the T on my forehead, and so I gave my first children's sermon in almost a year, being careful to mind the possible diversity of belief in the room as I explained what Ash Wednesday is. The opportunity and ability to do it was a pleasant surprise to me, as if being able to apply a little pastoral skill was something I didn't know I'd need to do.

In the evening, I logged on to watch my church's worship on Facebook Live, holding the angel trinket in my hand as I did so. I reflected on the day and its unexpected clarity and blessings.

I still don't know what I need from this particular Lenten season. I may not know until after Easter, when I can look back and see what it provided.

I don't know how many really know what they need this second time through in this strange and unwanted situation. I imagine that I'm not the only one wondering and stumbling and reflecting on what has been.

And so I'll offer this prayer shared during my church's service last night:

God, your earth suffers
and crumbles into ruin
like ashes in a fire.
Our hope has been consumed.
So we come to this fire
to find courage
to rise from the ashes.
God, give us clean hearts, we pray.

Ashes are what's left over. What will rise has yet to materialize.

May we find what we need over the next 40 days.