As I was making my way to the gym (“Be It Resolved”) after Ash Wednesday Service – big smudge of ashes across my brow, I got to thinking that Lent is a season whose time may finally have come! As I began my workout I was the only one with a cross on my forehead, but I was NOT the only one bearing a mark upon my brow.
You can see all over people’s faces now. The wrinkles of uncertainty, the furrows of self-reflection, the down-cast countenances of people deeply involved in soul-searching. The signs of these tough economic times are played out on the brows of men and women everywhere. People are now being forced to confront all those problems they have been able to avoid by simply throwing away more money (or credit). Those days of grandiose self-indulgence and avoidance are gone – as are the fortunes, security, and homes of so many. The days ahead are full of doubts and uncertainty for a lot of people who are not ready for it. Everyone is being asked to consider both how we got where we are and what we might yet need to do to get out of it all. Some are even beginning to contemplate their own complicity in all this. Regardless, the deeper these friends, neighbours, strangers and acquaintances are forced to look, the bigger the creases and furrows grow. Yes the signs are everywhere!
But that is also why Lent, and those of us who regularly observe it may be of some use! We are accustomed to bearing the marks of personal reflection and soul-searching. At least twice a year we devote an entire season of the church year to just such spiritual exercises. We don’t always like what we see when we get there, but we are at least willing to look. And why? It’s as obvious as the sign upon your forehead.
You see, while no less complicit in the affairs of this world … no less burdened and troubled by all that goes on around us … no less saddened by the continual hardships faced by friends and relatives, neighbours and even strangers … the mark we bear is not one of doubt or futility. It is a mark of hope, and certainty! As strange as it may sound, Lent can be a wonderful comfort to those who are burdened by fears and faults. It can provide a renewed breath of life and hope to those suffocating under the weight of their burdens and anxieties. And it can do all this because Lent shines forth the sign of the cross like no other season I know.
“You are dust and to dust you shall return.” Yes, I am guilty. Yes I deserve nothing. But God in His love and grace has given me a sign. A sign marked upon my head and my heart. He has given me His Son and His great victory upon the cross. He has shown me the way out. He has shone forth the bright beacon of hope and joy in the face of so much darkness, both within and around me. For in that cross He has canceled the debt of my sin. In that cross He has erased my complicity. In Holy Baptism (where the sign of the cross was first inscribed on my head and heart) He has adopted me into His family and has granted me an eternal home, more beautiful than any dwelling this side of Eden.
Therefore I will gladly bear this mark upon my life. The cross of Christ Jesus happily smudged upon my brow, to be a sign for our times. A sign of relief for those who suffer the mark of sin in their lives.