Ashes, Ashes . . .

Instead of your shame you will have a double portion,
And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion.
Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land,
Everlasting joy will be theirs. (Isaiah 61:7 NASB)

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We entered the side door like two whispering school girls, following the others who gathered in the sanctuary. We were returning to hear what the shepherd of this flock had to say to us this year. We went last year on a similar cold day, with expectation. As outsiders, we wanted to experience the mystery of ashes rubbed on a forehead in remembrance of the cross. We slipped into the pews on the far side of the altar, a different perspective from last year. We admired the stain glassed sunburst windows. We remembered how intriguing it was to see the crucifix outlined by a silhouette of the risen Lord Jesus above the altar, the Good Shepherd with arms raised in blessing over the flock.

The pianist played a tune, and the children’s choir led us in a repsonsive hymn, words wafted across the arched room:

Shepherd me, O God

Beyond my wants

Beyond my fears

From death into life.

The children sang the refrain, then the congregation repeated the refrain. The children sang a verse, and then we all sang the refrain. My soul surrendered to the tune. A longing rekindled, lighting the way on a cold winter morn. Singing the hymn comforted me with it’s familiarity with my deep need to be shepherded.

My friend and I went to celebrate her birthday and God’s grace with some coffee and a donut. I’m not much for giving up sweets for Lent, but I was challenged by the priest’s homily. He invited us to give up something we like, so thatย  we may learn “to like God better.” Or put another way to make more room for God in our lives.

After breakfast, I went home to contemplate the beginning of my ad{Lent}ure.

Even after such a beautiful morning of devotion, my good mood began to plummet. I wanted to stay home and read art books and plan for an upcoming art class. But instead, from noon to six, we were scheduled to be at my husband’s outpatient surgery to remove the pins and wires from his elbow that he needed last year, when he broke his elbow. I was getting a bit grumpy about six “wasted” hours, where I’d have to sit in a waiting room.

I had to give up my crankiness, and ask God for help me to be cheerful. I have a real problem with time. I am a bit of a time hoarder. I want it all for myself and on my terms. I may have to relinquish time for Lent. I wonder what that would look like.

Earlier in the week, our younger son invited me to join him for an Ash Wednesday service at his church. I wanted to go, but was concerned of the timing because of the surgery. But my worries were unwarranted, I ended up spending a nice afternoon reading several Lent devotions, browsing my art books and writing a plan for my class, while Les sailed through his surgery and recovery with no delays. I got him home and settled with plenty of time to make it to the service.

I didn’t expect to be offered ashes a second time this day, but I guess God knew I needed a double portion.

The liturgy of the evening service was similar to the morning with a call to worship, a hymn, Scripture readings, ashes and communion. But the closing prayer moved my soul the most. With double ashes smudged across my forehead and a few tears on my cheeks, we repeated these words in unison:

We are thankful for forgiveness and healing. Mindful of faith that sees possibilities, faith that endures, faith that inspires. Mindful of love’s call to be faithful, to endure, to be generous and forgiving whatever the cost. Mindful of the hope of new life, as we follow Jesus during this Lenten journey. Amen.

Mindful of the ashes. Ashes, which the pastor reminded us were useless remains of a cold fire, or worse, the reminder of loss after a house fire. Ashes in the ancient world were chosen as a symbol of grief, along with uncomfortable clothing (sackcloth) to reflect the discomfort of brokeness and death. But these ashes will be replaced with rejoicing. For the joy set before us. The joy of knowing Jesus, of answering the door when He knocks.

The next forty days could be a beginning, the start of a marathon race, a desert journey, a visitor knocking for entrance, or a fast from time monitoring. Whatever metaphor is indicated on a given day, I know that behind all of these yearnings and desires, I will find the face of our Gentle Shepherd with arms outstretched in love, mindful of my wandering tendencies, He will draw me into the adventure of each new day.

Shepherd me, O God

3 thoughts on “Ashes, Ashes . . .

  1. Kel: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Ash Wednesday services. I love the song. It speaks to my heart about God being with me, if only I would ask Him more often. I know I am going to enjoy this Lenten season as I learn more of God and grow closer to Him.

  2. Kel, this is so beautiful. I’d not seen it. Unfortunately, I’m still not receiving your posts (or those of other bloggers I love) by email–even with this new computer. I have NO idea why. It’s a little hard for me to remember to look these up (and time-consuming, not knowing when everyone will have a new post). That’s why I love the email delivery. I hope to rectify this soon, because I don’t want to miss doubleand triple portions of grace I receive at your site. Our Presbyterian church does not really observe Lent and Ash Wed…..though recently we havebegun to talk abuot Lent and lament. I grew up as a Methobapterian ๐Ÿ™‚ and we just observed two parts of the liturgical calendar: Christmas nad Easter. This does not make sense to me. I’mthinking you went to a Catholic church by your description, and I know this song is sung there. Just so lovely. I went to a nearby Episcopal church, and it too is “high church.” There music was all Gregorian chant sung by a professional choir. It was breathtaking. And the homily was deeply meaningful to me….and the imposition of ashes. That could be a more biblical reminder of humility and of our mortality? I was glad and humbled to be there.

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