On Ash Wednesday, February 13, Christians across the world will go to their respective sacred spaces and have ashes mixed with oil imposed on their foreheads. There is an unspoken rule that you don’t “wipe” the ashes off, so those same Christians will leave worship and enter into the world believing that they bear the mark of sin and mortality while everyone else wonders, “what’s the smudge on my banker’s head?” or “doesn’t that lady know her mascara got a little high?”
Honestly, this is a strange thing to do. Yet, it is not the only strange thing that Christians do to live out our faith. Think about how strange it is that we share in communion which represents God’s grace, and Jesus’ body and blood. How strange it must seem that we baptize with water... a glorified form of bathing in one’s clothes, or a baby in a fluffy white garment. How strange it must be for outsiders to walk into our practice of reading from a really old book, and listening to the words of a preacher that claims to have an unseen connection to God.
So, why do this strange thing on Ash Wednesday? And what can I say or do when I notice the awkward glances of the rest of the population?
The ashes are to remember: like a locket worn around a neck with a picture of one’s beloved.
The ashes are to confess: like a scarlet letter that each of us wear everyday but usually only bear in the deep recesses of our hearts.
The ashes are to proclaim: because being weird for the sake of teaching one’s soul a lesson from time to time is not the worst thing that could happen to us.
I hope you will go, do this strange thing of having the ashes imposed on your forehead.
I hope it makes you feel uncomfortable, like all you want to do is accidentally wipe it off.
I also hope at some point you forget that its there so that you can remember when a cashier tries to give you a hand wipe to take away the mystery smudge.
I hope you know it is not a badge of Christian honor to make you feel better than anyone who has a clean forehead, but that you will recognize it is a sign of God’s sorrow.
I hope these things for me, too.
May we spend the day reflecting on death and sin and the fragile reality of our bodies, so that our hearts might overflow with a strange sense of gratitude for God’s surprising gift of grace.
If you are looking for a place to go and you're in the Knoxville area, Church Street UMC will have a "drop-in" opportunity to receive the ashes for commuters from 7:00-8:00am, a 45 minute service at 12:00pm, and again at 6:30pm, each opportunity is in our main sanctuary. All are welcome.