What do Ash Wednesday services, a hospital visit and an AA meeting have in common? On the surface, perhaps nothing. But this past Wednesday they were seamlessly woven together creating one of the most holy starts of Lent I have ever been gifted. It would have been enough to gather as we did both at noon and in the evening to walk together through the sacred Ash Wednesday liturgy inviting us, through word and sacrament, into this wilderness season. Those services were planned and prepared for well in advance and I was grateful for time together with you.
What wasn’t planned were two additional moments on Wednesday reminding me of the importance of what it means to be unashamedly committed to not only gathering as church but also being church in the world.
Earlier in the day I had spoken with the leader of the noon AA group and asked for permission to come down to the meeting before it ended at 1:00 to offer ashes to anyone wanting them. What happened cracked open my heart. Nearly every person at the meeting (a wonderfully eclectic gathering of a downtown meeting including business people and court-ordered attendees) came and stood in line and asked for ashes as well as special prayers. In person after person, nearly 40 in all, I saw the face of God staring back at me- beautiful, gritty, dirty, clean, groomed, disheveled, calm, agitated, loud, quiet- all of it present, and all of it wanting to be seen with no need to fix or fade, just be seen and blessed. With each application of ashes and the words “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” I was keenly aware I had no idea what those words might mean to so many. Fortunately, I don’t need to know and instead am privileged to simply offer what we have to give with the belief that God is driving that bus.
Then later that day on behalf of our community I took ashes on a hospital visit. And lovely as that exchange was, it was predictable. What wasn’t predictable were the two nurses that stopped me in the hall and asked if I was a priest, (what gave that away- all black, clerical collar and a big ol’ ash sign of the cross on my forehead perhaps?) and did I have ashes with me. When they heard I did they asked if I would come to their nurses’ station and give them ashes because they couldn’t get to a church service. It was another unexpected and lovely moment of unexpected grace (and I am sure I got more out of it than they did), if not also somewhat uncomfortable standing in the hall. Looking back on it now it was perhaps another public witness to the importance of being a people of symbol and sacrament out in the world in hopes of shaping who and how we are everyday.
So now we are on our Lenten journey. I pray we each on our own, and also together, find time to see and hear and feel God’s grace along the way. Come home this Sunday and find the signs and symbols of our journey in our worship space, in our music and prayers, and on the faces of those who gather week after week hoping to glimpse a vision of the kingdom just waiting to be noticed. Please also consider joining the community for a Sunday morning class/conversation these next 3 Sundays, and/or on a Wednesday evening as we gather for a simple soup supper and a movie.
May you never forget that you are loved,