Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. We had a church service tonight and during the service, as per usual, we were invited to come forward and receive ashes on our forehead. We've been doing this for a while (a while, meaning years!) and yet I've never actually been comfortable receiving them. Not because I don't believe that I am from dust and to dust I will return (which is what the Pastor says while marking your forehead). But because the reading from the gospel text seems to deter me from doing it. You see the gospel is the story of Jesus telling people not to flaunt their religious practices for all and sundry to see. And it felt like I was showing off, when I had this black mark on my head. Jesus reminds us that taking care of the sick, elderly, marginalized and the "other"is what our faith is to be about. It isn't the fasting, or the beating of the chest or the loud murmurings (or the ashes on the head) that really show what we believe. It's the passing the hug or the smile to anyone who looks like they might need it. It's helping someone get up when they are down. It's being there for others, and not for the recognition, but for the sheer unmitigated joy of giving without worrying about receiving. I'm not always good at this. I would suspect many of us aren't. But Lent--these 40 days, gives us an opportunity to see what it means to be a follower and --well--follow the example. Do the good deed. Not because it gets you anything, but because it feels good to do it and it is what we are called to do as Christians. Pastor pointed out in his sermon that this receiving of ashes isn't to show anyone how pious we are, it's to remind us whose we are. A symbol for US.
So I went up and got ashes because as the Pastor reminded me, it imprints the idea that I am a follower of Jesus, not to show off--after all the day is done and I'm home in front of the computer--who's gonna see? So it felt right this time. Thanks, Pastor Jay for the encouragement.