Friends of Old Stone Well Farm,
I plan to post entries here on this page from the Lenten devotional I wrote for Presbyterians Today magazine. May these reflections enrich your journey!
Inheriting the Kingdom
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Ash Wednesday | March 2
Repent and believe
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return. — Genesis 3:19
Growing up, having foreheads smudged with burnt palm ashes was something my Catholic and Anglican friends did. We didn’t do it in the Congregational church of my childhood nor in the Presbyterian church I attended as a teen. Yet I was intrigued by the practice, mostly by how my friends seemed different once they sported smudges that looked more like abstract art rather than the crisp crosses they were meant to be. The brazen was subdued. The bully was quieted. The confident turned uncharacteristically awkward. It was as if suddenly the world could see their frailty. It made me relieved that I didn’t get ashes. I outgrew that relief, and now embrace Ash Wednesday’s somber reminder, echoed in the words from Genesis that accompany the ash crosses: Remember, from dust you come and to dust you return. Remember. We are not our own. We belong to God, and one day we will return to God.
There’s an alternate phrase that can be said when imposing ashes: Repent and believe in the Gospel. I prefer that to the mention of dust, for the “repent” spurs me to reorient my life and take seriously the Gospel’s message of love. And each year, as I feel the grit of the ash against my skin, I think of another cross once placed on our foreheads. The one that made us squirm and squeal as infants: the watery baptismal cross marking us as God’s beloveds. One day, our baptisms will be made complete at the time of our death. Till then, Ash Wednesday comes, reminding us time is slipping by. Inwardly we squirm. Silently we squeal. The smudge is made. The question is asked: When life is over, have I done my best to love as Christ loved?
Redeeming God, we remember this day the fragility of our lives. We remember that through all our days, we belong to you. May we return to you and learn this Lent to truly love the world you created. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
What would others say about how you have lived your life for Christ? How do you currently show the love of Christ to others? Where can you do better?