Romans 11:5-8. So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”
I’ve never had ash put on my forehead, at least not on purpose. As someone from a Baptist tradition that always emphasized being as little Catholic as possible, I was never taught to observe Lent or Ash Wednesday or really the liturgical calendar at all. I suppose the fear of practicing Ash Wednesday or giving something up for Lent was too close to being a law, something that earned righteousness, when in reality we know that it is all of grace. As Paul says in Romans 11:6 above, But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
I think I have been reluctant to give something up during Lent because I never really thought I could sustain it for 40 days (of course those Sundays off is a nice respite). So then the “good Baptist” in me just labels Lent as “works righteousness” and eats another slice of pizza. And yes I still reject any teaching that says that we can self-purify by what we do or don’t do, or what we give up, for then it would no longer be grace.
But on this Wednesday, and every Wednesday, I don’t want to have the spirit of stupor either – eyes that don’t want to see and ears that don’t want to hear. Could it be possible that Ash Wednesday can be a reminder of our complete inability? Our need for grace?
Maybe what our ash-ed brothers and sisters in Christ are reminding us of today is that grace IS our only hope. The dust of mortality on a forehead reminds of our hopelessness without new life. Reminders of mortality are reminders of eternal life. And physical life. That being in Christ is not just a spiritual reality but a physical reality as well.
So whether you observe Lent or not, can we agree today that we all need a bit more repentance in our lives? Can we agree that without Christ our living is futile? And yet at the same time that how we live in the flesh is important for transformation into Christ. Isn’t this why we fast?
“To live is Christ” is to be awakened from the stupor. Eyes open. Ears open. Grace filled. For those in Christ, EVERY DAY is Ash Wednesday. A day of remembering our own ungodliness. Our sin. Every day I can stop pretending. Stop moralizing. I can embrace the reality of my corruption. Admit it. Name it. Honestly turn from it. Seek grace. Be desperate. Be mortal.
And every day is Sunday. A day to embrace grace. To live in the love and victory of the resurrection. To embrace hope in Christ. I can show myself some compassion and show it to others too. I can embrace the reality of my salvation, my righteousness. Identify holiness. Strive for it. Be satisfied. Be immortal.
Lord open my eyes. Unplug my ears. Wake me up inside. Awaken me to my inability. Show me that I need to not just give up something for Lent but that I need to give up on all my self-salvation projects. The “do better, do more” voice that answers my doubts. The efforts to be like any other Christian rather than like Christ. The holiness inducing penance that I place myself under after each sin. God, save me from me.
Whether you observe Lent or not, Liturgical Folk’s Lent album can offer a good prayer guide for any season.