Ashes and Ice

It’s Ash Wednesday. I’m sick. I’m cold. And worship is canceled because the roads outside look pretty nasty, with the threat of getting nastier as soon as the sun goes down.  But I’m sitting in my office at the church “just in case” someone doesn’t get the word and shows up.

And it might just be one of the holiest moments I’ve had lately.

As I folded up the burlap that I had planned to use on the altar today and poured the ashes back into their container, I found myself reflecting on the lonely nature of Christ’s last few hours.

Sure, at the Last Supper, he had his friends with him… but one would betray him.

What could be lonelier than looking into the eyes of a person who would greet you with a kiss all while handing you over to the powers and principalities of this world? Judas might as well have put the knife in Jesus’s back himself.

Sure, his friends joined him in the garden when Jesus agonized over what was about to happen in prayer.  But they fell asleep. Over and over again.

What could be lonelier than seeing the people you love drifting off to sleep without a care when you are about to meet your torturous death?

Then came the arrest, the questioning, the trials, the beatings… his friends had fled. The ones bold enough to stay close hid in the crowd, going so far at to deny knowing him. The crowds–faces he surely recognized from that triumphant entry into Jerusalem–were now contorted into ugly, hateful jeers as they demanded his blood.  They hated him so much in that moment that they would rather have a rebel, a murderer, a troublemaker set free than this itinerant preacher. There was the long walk to Golgatha. There was the torture of nails driven through hands and feet.

But worst of all was that terrible moment, hanging on the cross, when Jesus turned his face toward heaven and gave all that he had on our behalf–that terrible, terrible loneliness of death.

I stood in an empty sanctuary, the last of the days muffled sun light peeking at me from behind stained glass windows, feeling the coarse burlap scratching my fingers, and I thought about how lonely that dark tomb was.  How lonely Jesus’s death was.

In my hand were ashes, burned from last year’s palms of jubilation. Outside were icicles and snowflakes, forcing our routines to come to a grinding halt. And before me, in a darkening sanctuary was the truth of what Jesus had done for me–how he had traveled such a lonely road up the mount of Golgotha and died a lonely death, for me–but because of what he did, I don’t have to wait to live. He has already rolled the stone away from my tomb.  The light of a new day is already filling that dark void and the newness of spring is already growing in my heart and soul…

Lent is a time for penance. It’s a time for us to look at ourselves, to find those things that stand between us and God and to rid them from our lives. Lent is a time to grow, to be disciplined, to remember, to look forward, and to rely more deeply on grace. We begin it wallowing in the ashes because we know what we’ve done. We know what we deserve. We know we can’t save ourselves.

But for us, the stone is already rolled away–so live!

Live the gospel.

Live in Christ’s footsteps.

Live the Good News.


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