This evening I participated in my first Ash Wednesday service. It is so lovely to have the space to come face to face with my humanity and with the extravagant, blunt reality of the gospel. The woman who spoke summarized it well when she said that we are both very small and very significant.
I felt small. I felt the weight of my own brokenness I cannot come to God, I am not even capable of fully wanting to come to God on my own. Yet, I yearn to be completely loved and completely forgiven, but not to repent. I don't want to pay the price involved in really acknowledging how I have sinned. The last thing I really want to do is to own that I have neglected to forgive others, to care for those around me, or to honor God the way He deserves to be honored. This requires facing the knowledge that I am small, so very small. So small, in fact, that I cannot even face the depths of my own failure because it is too much affront to the comfort I think I am entitled to. I think that if I try hard enough that I might be able to humble myself just enough to really repent. Then the reading from Isaiah breaks through loud and clear.
Is that the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?Is it to bow the head like a bulrush and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
I am small, indeed. But here I am anyway, drawn to the tenderness of truth and love that reaches out to confront me with the reality that I am wretchedly stuck, but not without great hope. I want to come to the Lord that demands something deeper and more than my efforts at understanding my own sin. I want to come and be loved and healed and set free, but I am just so incapable of doing even that. My thoughts are given shape by the psalmist.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. Turn your face from me, Oh God. You desire truth in the inward being, therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Jesus. Jesus who offers to take on all my sin, to become my sin because He knows that I am that broken. In that invitation there is love - love that shows me that I am created. I am a being that is temporary, dependent. This reality breaks the illusions that I can in any way make myself ready for lent. It reminds me that the great freedom of the gospel is that Christ loved me when I was still His enemy, and that today is no different. I am small. And I am not without great worth. I am significant. Why else would the creator reach out and love, at great personal cost, the created? I must mean something. We must mean something.
These two realities must be kept together. To be small only is to berate myself and to never see the value that God places on me. To be small only can, I think, lead to the danger of legalism. To be significant only is to elevate myself to a place where I am in danger of forgetting the need created by my brokenness. I experienced so much joy in these two things being paired together so beautifully in the service. I am small, wretched, and stuck; and I am precious, worth a great price, and well-loved. I am ashes, and to ashes I shall return and I repent and trust Christ. I think that I am starting to see why this is the beginning of a season, there is much to unpack and absorb.