"You shall know the truth, and it will make you odd."
You have to admit: it’s odd. I mean who decides it’s a good idea to walk around with a dark smudge on your forehead? Not exactly the best way to blend in with the crowd.
Perhaps the oddest season of the year begins with the oddest service of the year. It’s Lent; a forty-day journey of reflection and penitence marked by self-denial and self-sacrifice leading up to Easter Sunday. And it all begins with Ash Wednesday.
To begin the annual journey, our people will step forward to receive the ashes. As the minister makes the sign of the cross on their foreheads they will hear the words from Genesis reminding them of the jarring, sobering truth of life; “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return”.
Like I said, it’s the oddest season and the oddest service we have. I take some comfort in knowing that unlike Christmas and Easter the world isn’t trying to encroach on Ash Wednesday and Lent. Every year the church celebrates Easter and the resurrection of Jesus while the world fixates on bunnies, egg hunts, the return of Spring and of course butterflies. When Christmas rolls around the church is telling the story of the birth of a Savior while the rest of the world is busy shopping and tracking Santa’s global progress on Christmas Eve.
But somehow the world hasn’t found a way to commercialize Ash Wednesday and Lent. It’s as if they looked at us and said, “You can keep it, it’s yours. We wouldn’t know what to do with it. It’s too odd—even for us”.
If you’re serious about following Jesus you are marked, set aside, made different. The cross scrawled in ashes on your forehead is a statement to you and the world that you are different. You step to the beat of a different drummer, heed a different voice, choose a different path and follow a Savior instead of your own desires and ambitions.
This Ash Wednesday, tell your people again how odd they really are. Remind them of how out of step they are with the rest of the world. Those who had the courage to follow Jesus to the cross discovered a surprising truth and handed us an invaluable lesson. When it felt like the world was falling apart, they discovered to their great shock that the Kingdom of God was bursting forth. When the journey led them to the darkest moments of their lives, they discovered more light and hope than they could have ever imagined. When they faced the death of Jesus and the reality of their own fragile mortality, they came alive again.
God knows the church needs to hear it.
Maybe your own church needs to hear it again more than you know. If your people are struggling, if your church is struggling, dip your finger in the ashes and make the sign of the cross on their foreheads. It may be the best sermon they’ll ever hear you preach.
Tell them the truth.
Remind them of their own mortality; let them be confronted by their deepest sin and darkest fears.
But don’t leave them there.
Take them on the journey that leads them all the way to the cross and to the resurrection.
Ash Wednesday begins the journey. No ticket required. No baggage allowed. Those who will walk with Jesus on the last leg of this journey have already been marked and identified with the sign of the cross.
You shall know the truth, and it will make you odd.
It will also set you free.