It is obvious and safe to assume that I know nothing about the liturgical church, aside from the fact that they kneel at certain times in their services, use their programs for more than announcements, and have a church calendar that they use to understand God and the rhythm of life better (and I might be making the rhythm of life thing up).
However, today is Ash Wednesday. From my understanding, the ashes used on Ash Wednesday are (either figuratively or in truth) from the palm branches used in last year’s palm Sunday celebration. The pastor/priest keeps the branches, and them burns them to ash, providing ashes to mark the foreheads of congregants.
So, I’d like to trace the line of the ashes. You see, those palm branches are vital to our relationship with God. When Jesus lined up on the donkey to ride into Jerusalem, the people thought the Christ had arrived. In their understanding, the Christ, or Messiah, would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, and then proceed to set the world right, kicking out Rome and establishing Jewish Rule for the Jewish people.
Jesus rode that little donkey (and, haven ridden a donkey once, it is no small feat), in front of a huge ecstatic crowd. They waved palm branches, shouted praises, and generally had a party – God was delivering them. Their deliverer had arrived.
One week later, Jesus stood before them with Pilate, beaten, abused, thrown aside, and they shouted “Crucify Him!” Why? Because He had disappointed them. He hadn’t lived up to their expectations. Those palm branches, waved with high hopes had been no more than false hopes…or so they thought.
You see, God was working from a different angle. He didn’t give them the immediate deliverance that they hoped. Instead, Jesus died on the cross and rose again so that they could have eternal deliverance – and an eternal, lasting, personal relationship with God.
As you consider Ash Wednesday, consider with me what it would be like to take your expectations of God to the altar and say “I need You – not as I expect You, but as You are, because You are God. Forgive me, cleanse me, and hold me close. I don’t quite ask to understand, just to be with You and know that You are God.”
Further contemplation: Matthew 6