I was looking around for a church that did Ash Wednesday services. It is coming up. I go into work in the afternoon that day, so I need one that is early enough that it won’t affect my schedule. I can’t go to an evening service because I’m closing that day.
I looked around and there are very few options nearby. Not every church has an Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes service, so I’m already limited there. I could go to the nearby Catholic church, but I’d have to fake being Catholic. While that is easy to do from my many years of Episcopal worship, I resent that I’d have to. I resent the whole idea of exclusion in church. Jesus didn’t make any such rules.
Jesus wasn’t Catholic. Jesus wasn’t a member of any denomination. Any denomination that says they have a lock on the Word hasn’t read it right. Any denomination that says only members can participate hasn’t gotten the message that we are all members of the same Body. There aren’t any limits. We are all in.
I could go to an Episcopal service at another church. I’m not stepping foot inside the one I used to go to. But even if I did go to another parish, I feel that it would get back to the priest at my former parish. I don’t feel like giving her the satisfaction of feeling like I’ve caved in.
Then I thought I could go to a Lutheran or Methodist church, but by this point I realized something. I really just don’t like the idea church as it exists right now. I don’t like that it seems more social club than social justice. I don’t like the idea of the division of lay and ordained. I reject that whole idea as not being of Jesus.
Then I thought that I could do this myself, at home. I’ve got the palms from Palm Sunday from last year. I could burn them on Shrove Tuesday (which is also Mardi Gras). This is what is traditionally done. The very same palms that we waved to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday are kept for a year. They are dry and brittle by that point – and perfect for burning. They are burned in a fire and the ashes are sifted and mixed with a little anointing oil. It is then applied to the forehead with the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Easy. I can do this. I have all the ingredients.
And then I really woke up. What am I trying to do? What do I expect to gain from this?
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. It is the beginning of forty days of penance and sacrifice. It is in memory of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert being tempted by the Devil. During all that time he gave up eating and drinking. During this time, many liturgical Christians traditionally just give up meat, at least on Fridays. Some go all the way and give up oil and eggs and a slew of other things in addition to meat, for the whole time.
Some people give up more than that. Some people will give up drinking, or chocolate, or playing video games. The idea is to give up something that you like. The idea is to then make space for something that you’ve not made space for. The idea is to make space for Jesus.
In Lent, we give up so we can take on. In Lent, we gain far more than we give up.
But the unspoken message of it is sacrifice, and in a way, that we are being punished. The unspoken message is that we aren’t worthy of God’s love unless we give up something. The unspoken message is that God has to be appeased in order for us to get anywhere, or anything.
And that isn’t the message of Jesus.
So I’m skipping Ash Wednesday. I’m skipping Lent. I’m skipping the whole idea of it, because the message of Jesus isn’t about making myself lesser than what I am in order to be considered worthy.
Jesus says I’m worthy just like I am, and that is good enough for me.