Today is Ash Wednesday, a day which traditionally marks the first day of theLenten season. On this day, Christians around the globe adorn themselves with ashes to serve as a reminder of our frailty, our sinfulness, and our unworthiness before Almighty God. They also serve to remind us to put our hope in Jesus Christ, our redeemer.
Today is the first time I have observed Ash Wed., though I have been a Christian for many years. This is partly due to the traditions of churches that I was brought up in, but in recent years I think the only thing holding me back has been fear and pride.
It is a scary thing to walk out your door with a mark on your forehead. It sets you apart as different from the norm. It causes people to stare. It makes you self-conscious. It constantly reminds us that we are sinners. And it forces one to be prepared to answer questions about one’s faith.
As I went about my business today, I noticed a lot of people staring. I got used to this pretty quickly. Our American culture tries to hard to pretend that it doesn’t notice differences. Rather than celebrating diversity, we avoid acknowledging it altogether in an effort to avoid offending someone. So for the most part, the staring was all I received, though people were certainly quick enough to look away when I noticed them. Yet on two occasions today, the stare was only the beginning.
I admire people who have the courage to be honest, both with answers and with questions. Twice today, as I passed through drive-thru windows (once at a bank, the other at McDonalds), the stares were supported by honest inquiry….followed by equally honest responses.
At the bank, my teller looked at me and smiled, then asked if I had been working on a car or something, cause I had something on my forehead. I returned his smile and informed him that today is Ash Wed., and that I wear this mark as a reminder of my frailty. His question was an honest, open one. His response was equally honest and open as he smiled again, albeit a bit more reservedly, and then gave me a quizical look. Then he shook his head and told me to have a good afternoon.
At the second window (the one at Micky-Dees), I pulled up to find a young woman smiling broadly at me. Then she leaned forward as asked, “So what is that all about? I have seen so many people with that on their heads today.” I gave her a similar reply to the one I gave the bank teller, informing her that as a Christian, this is something I do on this day. Her response was equally honest as she smiled broadly, and said a hearty, “thank you!”
Neither conversation was long, involved theological reflection, or any such stuff. But something struck me – this is what it means to be set apart from the world. In one day, I was asked twice about my faith, because of a smudge on my brow. How much more significant would it be if I live my life in such a way that everyday people notice that something is truly different about me?
It isn’t about a physical difference folks, though our outward appearance should reflect our inward faith, rather than pop-culture. It is instead about living life obediently to the Word in such a way that people can’t help but wonder what is wrong with us.
As we enter together into the Lenten season, I urge you to take time to reflect on just what it means to be “called out” and “set apart” for service to God. Jesus was a radical….he didn’t fit in….. so should we be.