I love Ash Wednesday.
One year ago, I walked into to Ash Wednesday service and felt so broken I was sure I could never be put back together. I expected nothing. (Aside from more disappointment, maybe.) I sat and listened to how Lent was a season that brought us to Easter, and how for many it was a messy, muddy, windblown path. I related. Then I read these words - "the ashes are a prerequisite for Easter. Brokenness for healing, death for resurrection." I remember vividly how those words pierced my heart. They comforted me unlike anything else had done. I came there, broken, & now saw clearly the exchange that was possible.
I was excited all day yesterday, and I think it's because that memory of comfort and of the glimmer of joy that felt, in that moment, like more than enough. It took a long time after that Wednesday night for things to look better for reals, but the groundwork was laid. That glimmer carried me to Easter, which carried me through March, April & May, when everything fell to pieces. I wanted this year's to yield similar results.
In church tonight, my pastor talked about the meaning of Ash Wednesday. He spoke of a time when the worst sinners were called penitents, and were adorned with ashes on their foreheads as a scarlet letter of sorts, to set them apart. As time passed, people began to realize that they were no better than the penitents, and took on the ashes themselves. Now we wear the ashes to symbolize the beginning of Lent, a season which is intended to bring us closer to the God and Savior who created and redeemed us. The ashes symbolize our repentance, our grief over our sins. I just think the whole ashes business is a really exquisite picture of community and of our brokenness before God. I have a hard time thinking of anything more beautiful than this: to love broken people with our whole broken selves. It's the best, most genuine, most authentic, boldest thing we can do, really.
Thinking about where I was when I wrote about Lent last year is really hard. I can't not cry over that place, knowing what lies just ahead. And this year, I am proud to bear the ashes, to bear my brokenness for and with my beautifully and similarly broken community. I am honored to walk hand in hand with those who love my broken heart with their broken hearts. We sang "Come Ye Sinners" in church tonight, which is one of those songs that I used to sing a lot, have since forgotten about, and tonight met me with the same familiar comfort of the season itself. One verse in particular resonates with me every time I hear it:
come, ye weary, heavy-laden, lost and ruined by the fall;
if you tarry till you're better, you will never come at all
We enter this season in a state of collective brokenness. We repent of our sin and are washed clean. And how fortunate that we needn't tarry [delay, wait] till we're better. Or else I think the song is right... we would never come at all. We aren't required to get better. We just come broken, as we are; and Jesus pretty much takes care of the rest.
cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
let me hear joy & gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
you do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken & contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
[from Psalm 51]