As I drove across town this morning, I was thinking about all my churchy friends. Most of them are involved in or attending an Ash Wednesday service today. They cross a fair number of denominational lines, and I do have a handful of Catholic friends. They are scattered across the country and include a smattering of folks in other countries. It struck me that this is one of those days that I really do feel part of the church universal. Sure, there are plenty of Christians who are as puzzled by an ashy smudge on the forehead as others are moved. But even those who ask “why?” or “what is that?” have an opportunity to consider the reality that we first-world people tend to ignore:
We are not God. We are created and finite. We are dust and to dust we shall return.
Somehow it seems appropriate at this time when the denominational church is facing its own mortality, when the attractional model of being church is showing signs of decay, when Christendom may be in its death-throes… that we enter a time of reflection on what it means to die in the embrace of the one who created us.
Were the fields of grass that waved in the winds of the Holy Spirit meant to come to a death from the start? Is it our hubris that makes us think that we could build all these structures and processes and somehow make them live on and on and on? Of course these things can only survive for a season. God made us so wonderfully, fearfully and maddeningly complex that the church must always be taking a new look at the neighborhoods and communities in which they offer God’s gift of grace.
Don’t get me wrong- I’m a denominational, connectional gal. I love me some presbytery and GA meetings. But there is something about the way we make those structures that we create – whether they are sanctuaries, cathedrals, organizations or hierarchies – that reminds me of the Tower of Babel. It wasn’t the building that was the issue… it was the heart issue that led those people to create something for their own fame, glory or honor. And the heart issue that led God to remind them who was really in charge.
So on this Ash Wednesday, as I run into people in stores or riding bikes or leaving our sanctuary with crosses on their foreheads, I think about the time I have before I become dust again. It could be a day. It could be decades. The key, it seems to me is not how long we have, but how we use our days. Am I offering words of hope and good news to those who have heard little of either? Am I living as one who has encountered the living God? Am I bringing light or darkness into the rooms I enter? May it be so.