An Annual Check-up -- Rev. Julie Long
On Wednesday, you may find yourself doing a double take. As you push your grocery cart down the aisles, don’t be alarmed by that smudge on your fellow shopper’s forehead. And fear not: your bank teller did shower that morning.
On a winter-time Wednesday each year, Christians around the world join together in an ancient ritual known as “the imposition of ashes.” On Ash Wednesday, many Christians take part in such a service to mark the beginning of Lent, a forty-day period (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter.
The act of making a cross of ashes on the forehead sets one on the Lenten journey, an annual course of self-examination and repentance to prepare for the renewal found in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The ashes illustrate the words of Genesis 3:19: “out of the ground you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Lent is a hard season. It’s not like Christmas – no songs of joy, no parties, no presents at the end. Ashes on the forehead proclaim a truth of which we would rather not be reminded. Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust. Life comes to an end. Aren’t we faced with our mortality enough as it is? We bury our loved ones. Our bodies show signs of wear. We see situations of despair all around us. Do we really want to dwell on it for forty days?
Even more, the season of Lent challenges us to reflect on our shortcomings, to give up something that sidetracks us from being who God calls us to be, to take on a practice that centers us. Penitence. Sacrifice. Contemplation. Lent seems to celebrate things we often don’t value and celebrate attitudes we rarely show. Who needs that?
Lent is grueling, to be sure. On the other hand, maybe Lent is just what you need.
Could Lent be that chance to clear your life of distractions so that you can reorient yourself towards your Maker? Perhaps you need some time to slow down and catch your breath so that you can remember what’s really important in life.
Maybe seeing a smudge of ashes on your forehead in the mirror’s reflection can be a humble acknowledgement that you came from dust. Everything you are and hope to be was breathed into you by God.
Lent can be an opportunity to let something go. Imagine what might happen if in sacrificing some of your gifts, you are able to acknowledge the Gift behind it all.
Once a year, I see my doctor for a physical checkup. He monitors my vital signs and guides me toward good health. On Wednesday, I have an appointment at a beautiful sanctuary at the Top of Poplar Street for my annual spiritual checkup. I am fully aware that the diagnosis may be hard to hear, and the treatment prescribed may be tough to endure. But I will do it, knowing that it will guide me toward health. It will guide me toward abundant life.