At noon today, my family attended the Ash Wednesday service at Perkins Chapel on the campus of SMU. It was a wonderful service. It was a time when I was reminded that all is not well, but that this is not the way things have to be. I was confronted with my sin, had ashes placed on my forehead in the shape of a cross, and was exhorted to repent and believe the gospel. I was confronted with my mortality and reminded of the promise of new life in Christ.
I find the Ash Wednesday service to be an important one for the Christian life for many reasons. One of the main feelings I have after the service is simply that of feeling conspicuous. Throughout the day I am aware that I have ashes on my forehead and I feel like people are looking at them, looking at me. I feel self-conscious and find that I am more aware of my actions. Now, I am not sure whether people are actually watching me any more closely than normal (they probably aren’t). But, nevertheless, I find that I give just a bit more thought to how what I am doing could be connected by others to the fact that I have a cross on my head.
Initially, this feeling is usually frustrating and annoying. I don’t want to feel self-conscious. I don’t even want to be thinking so much about myself… isn’t the point for me to become increasingly focused on God? Yet, I find grace here. I find that being conspicuous is a means of grace. When I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb and I want to hide (or go to the bathroom and wipe the ashes off of my face), I am reminded of what Christ has done for me. I am reminded of how often I don’t stick out and people have no idea that I am a follower of Christ.
United Methodists used to be folk who were known for their excitement about the Good News. They used to be conspicuous. Early Methodists were far more often accused of being fanatics or enthusiasts than they were accused of being luke warm. Today it often seems that we are best known for either being open or content – indeed, lukewarm.
Today I believe that God is asking me to allow Christ to be more conspicuous in my life. I believe that God wants to free me from the things that keep me from becoming a deeply committed Christian. I believe that God wants to enable me to love others willingly, even naturally. And today I have been reminded that God’s grace becomes more tangible to me as I faithfully practice the means of grace.
Father, during this season of Lent please pour your renewing and sanctifying grace into the lives of your people. Help us to receive this grace and do nothing to inhibit it. Send your Spirit to guide us and lead us closer to your Son Jesus Christ, who is the source of our hope and salvation. And may we be conspicuous in our love of you and in our love for our neighbor. May it be so. Amen.