Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ash Wednesday

But for right now it is Lent and for one more snow I can luxuriate in the isolation of the cold, attend laconically to who I am and what I value and why I'm here. Religion has always kept earth time. Liturgy only gives sanction to what the heart already knows. --Phyllis A. Tickle

Lectionary for Ash Wednesday
Reading from the Psalms: Psalm 51.1-17

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

The horrifying breadth and depth of sin's undermining of human nature and the clear reality that only gracious, divine action can possibly arrest or repair the damage it does are evident in the Psalm. Psalm 51 reminds all that the true and valuable purpose of repentance is as a means for the sinner to entreat the gracious help of the only One who can do anything about sin.

Ash Wednesday. The imposition of ashes. Did you know that this year's ashes are made from the palm fronds of last year's Easter palm branches? I find that incredibly hopeful. A reminder of the past, while also an encouragement to anticipate the future.

Stephen and I attended services in the evening, and it probably was a mistake to go at night, since the little boy was tired and grumpy and did not want to sit quietly still. During the congregational confession of sins, Stephen shouted out, "Yay!" whenever the minister mentioned our sins. Even though I tried to divert him with drawing mazes in my ever present legal pad, we eventually removed to the cry room where he could make as much noise as he wanted, and get up for "bounce around the room" breaks every few minutes.

After the cross of ashes was drawn on our foreheads, Stephen rubbed them off, not wanting to be dirty. "You have black stuff on you, Mom; you need to get clean." He has the right idea, but the black stuff is in my heart and no spit-and-swipe from a little boy will cleanse that.