As we approach Easter, I want to see Jesus like the characters in the old Bible stories who were climbing sycamore trees, reaching out through crowds to touch His robe, flocking to the hills to hear Him speak. Leading up to Easter, I long to see Him everywhere. I believe there is a beautiful sweet spot when we are running towards Jesus, where God’s smile is upon us.
On Palm Sunday, people in all kinds of churches celebrate Jesus entering Jerusalem and His followers laying palm branches on the ground, repeating “Hosanna, Hosanna” which means “Save Us Now.” In some churches, the ashes for Ash Wednesday services are made from palm branches taken from the previous years’ Palm Sunday Services. When the palm branches are burned, their ashes represent the dust from which God made us.
When these ashes are put on a person’s head one of two things is usually said: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (the good news that Jesus’s death fills the gap between God and us for those who believe) or “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” I am all in on both of these sweet, important, life-changing realities.
When we know this history, when we consider it with open hands, we see another place where we have more in common than we may assume. I believe God smiles on that and whispers, “Love one another…in all of the things look for my Son…it’s all about Him and Our love for you…keep your eyes on that…that is what matters.”
When my kids walk around with the ashes on their heads, it’s not to identify themselves as more righteous than the person next to them, but I would want to help them see that this world is not their home, that they were created for eternity. I want them to look in the mirror with the ashes on their foreheads and see themselves as marked. Set apart. I want them to begin to identify as His. To visually see the gap that their lives would be forever marked with if it were not for Jesus’s death and resurrection. To realize what was about to happen to their Jesus. Their Savior. I want them to see the ashes as a big mark of “I’m sorry.” I want them to look in the mirror and know that they need a solution to remove the mark of sin in their lives and that God provided that for them in the Gospel, in His Son Jesus.
As we enter into the season of chocolate bunnies, egg hunts, and jellybeans, I want them to remember that their joy was bought with a price. A sacrifice. And that sacrifice cost something much more than the expense of an Easter basket and a ham. It cost the blood of God made man, Jesus.
That is a reality that I want to mark them for more than this upcoming season. I want that reality to mark them for their whole lives. So that’s how we will start Lent today. With ashes on their heads. Not because they are working something off, not because they are worthy, but because the One who died was most worthy. Worthy of living marked…today, tomorrow, forever.
So if your place of worship celebrates Ash Wednesday, with this perspective, maybe you go there and receive the ashes. Not because you have to, but because with history in mind, you may want to. This Ash Wednesday, I am going to celebrate one of the many places where, as Jesus followers, we are more alike than we are different. I am going to go to Mass because I believe that revival comes when we run together with our eyes fixed on Jesus. I believe that God smiles on that.