By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Ash Wednesday- actually the whole concept of Lent- jolts me. I grew up Holiness/Pentecostal, belonged to another such church during college, and then spent another five years as a member of a nondenominational Evangelical fellowship. So yeah, I always find myself shocked by the starkness of this day.
The verses read, including the one above, are blunt. We’re going to die. All of us. And we, as in humanity, really stink. We are the worse. We oppress others, are selfish, and a quick skim through Isaiah 58 shows that even when we are supposed to be doing something holy, like fasting, we tend to get all self-righteous and conceited.
Ash Wednesday is a straight up reality check, one that’s much needed in an American Christian church culture that, quite frankly, spends way too much time ensuring adherents of how awesome sauce we are. Joel Osteen churns out books for winners, while Paula White’s mission includes bringing “Truth, transformation, wholeness, and happiness to all those I come across.” [Italics, mine] Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there isn’t a time or place for celebrating the transformative power of the Gospel. But too often, it’s all celebration, all praise, and I’m not only talking about in the realm of Prosperity Preachers, either.
Yesterday was Mardi Gras (or Carnival for my Caribbean/ South American friends), and a common saying in New Orleans is the French, “Laissez les bons temps rouler.” In English, that’s “Let the good times roll.” That sums up the way a lot of people want to do Christianity; it’s all good, all the time. Except, it’s not. God is good all the time; life is not. We are not.
Psalm 103 says, “Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more.” We are dust, and our lives like wind-strewn petals, quickly forgotten.
We need this season of penitence, fasting and prayer. Before Easter, is Good Friday; before resurrection, death.