ASH WEDNESDAY-DAY 1.

Ash Wednesday—Day 1

A woman came to [Jesus] with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. . . . [Jesus said,] “By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial.”

Matthew 26:7,12 , NRSV

The Gospel Reading

Matthew 26:1-13 , NRSV

The Reflection

Death Preparations

We begin our journey with an unusual anointing. Today Christians enter churches around the world in quiet reflection and exit with a death mark upon their foreheads—ashes mixed with oil applied in the shape of a cross. Reminders of the death of our Lord, and our deaths. I speak in the plural, highlighting the two types of human death we contemplate during Lent. There is the daily death of self (our quotidian struggle to give over all those parts of our being that are resisting God) that we attend to with renewed vigor during Lent. Then there is the future death of our physical body, which the ashes remind us is looming. While death of self marks growth in Christ, physical death underscores the fate of this world—destruction. Our hope is that as we move toward our physical end through processes of decay, we grow in new life with Christ by giving up our preoccupation with self. We would like to see our power in these arenas be inversely proportional—less able to stop the decay of our body, more empowered to let our self die for the sake of Christ.

The Scripture reading recounts an anointing prior to Christ’s death. Our Lord tells His disciples that it is preparation for burial. Some of those around Him do not understand the act. They even ridicule it. In a few days, Jesus gives up His body and His will to the will of the Father. We remember His words: “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” ( Luke 22:42, RSV). Like Christ, you are preparing for death. Receiving a symbol upon your body that others will not understand. Walking toward acts of renunciation that confuse them. It is the beginning of your death march—death of self during Lent. But it also marks growth in Christ—growing strength to be filled with God’s will.

Powers continue to exist that would arrest our growth and kill us even as our Lord was arrested and killed. These are the enemies of God’s economy. These forces would steal what is true in us, having us glorify rebellious desires and ignore those people around us whom God would have us help.

As you encounter difficulties in the next few weeks, let your breath prayer be the words of Christ, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Just as the powers of evil misjudged God’s work in Christ, so too they will misjudge what God is able to do within your life.

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