Ash Wednesday

palmashes[1]We went to an Ash Wednesday service a few years ago prior to me becoming a pastor.  It was the first service of lent (which lasts 40 days)…diametrically opposite of Fat Tuesday…Mardi Gras… partying and revelry.  Being the opposite, it is very a solemn service that helps you focus on your sinfulness, your need for Christ’s redemption and helps you look inwardly at how short we all fall.  Since my childhood I attended these services almost every year.  Lent has been a great time to reflect and is a season that ends in stark joy at Easter…one of the reasons people like Lent is because, at the end, you feel happier and appreciate things like being able to say Alleluia in the service.  You know life… you don’t really appreciate the good until you’ve experienced the bad.

Well back to Ash Wednesday service…usually, it’s a powerful worship for me… I come away very moved and appreciative of what God has done for me but this particular night I was distracted…

Maybe it was the person sitting close to us that smelled like two or three packs of smoked cigarettes or maybe it was how solemn the normally cheerful, friendly people looked…

The smoke from the burning palm leaves kind of made my nose itch or maybe it was the itching from the ashes on my forehead… Who’s singing off key?

More distractions… a couple, sitting close, talking about all of the people they saw… what they were wearing… whispering “was that the woman’s grandson?” 

Then I started thinking about the premise of the thing…would God want us to spend 40 days thinking about how imperfect we are and have us look like we just lost our new puppy?  I don’t know the answer to that… he had the Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years.  Would he want us to use this time to spread the joy because everyone has experienced the toughness of life?  Again, I don’t know the answer.  I do know that He loves me even in my sinfulness and wants me to love others.  I wish I knew more…

Another discovery…ding, ding, ding… it wasn’t other people’s fault I was distracted.  It was me… my misguided thoughts… my lack of focus.  We’re all in this life together… the distracted, the smoky, the whispering, the itchy, the solemn, the off key singers, the coughers, the snifflers, the richly and poorly dressed, the old, the young, the rich, the poor, the tattooed, and people with every imaginable attribute.  Thank goodness that my God welcomes us all, right where we are.

Give each other a break and love each other because we all have our challenges. Reflect on the tough times if only to appreciate and focus on the good.
What do you do to keep focus on the important thing… that God loves us right where we are?