If you were with me over at Jesus and Jaxy World blog, you may remember Ash Wednesday started it all. Here’s how. An article in The Anglican Digest had just told me the most inexplicable thing in the world is a cheerless Christian — because after all “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). And my sister, who is a lay reader in the Episcopal Church, had been telling me she wondered how people could sit in the pew and hear those words and not break into cheers — or at least grin like idiots (as I am doing right now, just reading them).
Then I went to the Ash Wednesday service at my Protestant church, and when the pastor told us Jesus said we had “moved from death to life” (John 5:24), what do you know? The congregation broke into cheers and applause! We all grinned like idiots and rejoiced! The sermon showed us that the ashes and the cross are the symbols of death, but for those of us who have met Jesus, they are really symbols of our resurrection!
And, because we are Protestants and don’t know what we are doing, the officiant who imposed the ashes on my forehead said, “There is now no condemnation for you” rather than the traditional “From dust you come and to dust you will return.” Thank God the next thing I had to do in this service was kneel at the cross, because my knees started to buckle when he said it, and I could hardly have stood a moment longer under this weight of glory.
Meanwhile our crazy worship band had started singing that David Crowder Band song, “How He Loves,” and when I got back to my seat, many of us hyper-graced folks were on our feet, hands waving, bellowing along, “Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss/ And my heart turns violently inside of my chest” — which was exactly how I felt — “I don’t have time to maintain these regrets, when I think about the way/He loves us, Oh, how He loves us …”
Bah, I have tears in my eyes writing about it right now. He loves us, and the sacrament of His death on the cross was like a tiny glimpse of how He loves us — freely, fully, endlessly, overwhelmingly, with nothing held back, and certainly nothing that condemns.
If you receive the ashes today with the thought of mortifying your pleasures and partaking in Christ’s suffering, that’s good. Better still, as far as I can see, is to receive them as the symbol of His love for you and revel in the power of resurrection. Cheer and grin like an idiot. It’s really the only response.