Setting The Stage

Not all Christian denominations observe Ash Wednesday.  Sitting in a Baptist pew, three times a week, in my small rural Texas town, I never once attended —or even had heard of —such a service until I was grown. While some Baptists do conduct Ash Wednesday services, they’re more common among Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Methodist congregations. These are not joyful, toe-tapping gatherings but instead are reverent and solemn. So why on earth would anyone choose to go to such as service? Because it sets the stage for the story. Without Ash Wednesday, can we really prepare ourselves and comprehend what’s to come and why?

Our society and even our faiths often want to fast-forward through the ugly parts of religious history and sugarcoat the gospel. We want entertainment. We want the promise of prosperity. We want the happy ever after without listening to the painful truth. But faith doesn’t work like that. Especially, the Christian faith.  It’s hard.

 While Good Friday is the culmination of the worst of humanity, Easter is the victory over that atrocity and our own personal sin. Had we been in Jerusalem as Jesus rode into town on that Thursday, we might have been waving palm branches with the crowd, singing “Hosanna! Hosanna!” only to be part of the same crowd the next day that yelled, “Crucify Him!” We’re weak. We’re broken. We’re prone to fail. And that’s why a cross, drawn with ashes on my forehead is so important.

 Sinners we have always been. Sinners we will always be. A reminder that we’re frail and only in the victory of the resurrection, which comes after the crucifixion, can we live abundantly now and for eternity.

 My favorite necklaces are crosses. I have a beautiful gold one that Steve bought me for Christmas one year; I own a gorgeous contemporary silver cross he gave me for my birthday; and, I even have an intricately painted porcelain cross I bought in Rome. But this—this cross— made of the burnt ashes from last year’s palm leaves waved at our Palm Sunday service is the most amazingly beautiful cross I will wear all year.

 At a 12:00 service at our church in Dallas, the scene was set for me today. I will journey through Lent to Good Friday, remembering and mourning the sacrifice made for me. They’ll be no fast-forward through this holy season but come Easter morn, you better stand back! I will TAP MY TOE and SING HALLELUJAH even though I can neither dance nor sing— O, but Friends, I can rejoice because the stage was set on Ash Wednesday.

Ellen Miller