My dad happened to be in town that Wednesday and we had a good talk about Lent and what it meant. Growing up Baptist, Lent isn't something that we generally observe as a denomination. However, I do remember our church in Nigeria doing a 40 days of prayer and fasting leading up to Easter. And as I've grown older, I've become close friends with Catholics, Episcopalians, and other denominations that do observe Lent. And as I mentioned in my last blog, I never really got it. In fact, once in in high school I almost wiped off the ash cross on a friend's forehead thinking it was an accidental smug mark.
While my dad and I were talking, the subject of how the Jews mourned through ashes and sackcloth was related to Ash Wednesday. In a sense, by wearing the ash cross on your forehead you're "mourning" your sinful nature and what it cost Christ to save you. It's an act of penance. And my first thought was, "He trades us beauty for those ashes."
Thinking about trading beauty for ashes also made me think of the most recent Serve Sunday my church does. I go to Fellowship White Rock in Dallas, and every 4th Sunday instead of a traditional service, we worship God through service in the community. The most recent one was helping a mom and her son rebuild their lives after they lost everything in an apartment fire.
While I didn't get to help out that much with this Serve Sunday, it perhaps is one of my favorites. I took a brief tour of the apartment the church was cleaning up and furnishing for Juliet and her son and I almost cried. They had lost everything in the fire, and within a week, the church had collected enough money and donated items to give them new beds, couches, toys, books, movies...
... it was Christ's love in action. We gave her beauty for ashes. But I honestly feel it's something that wouldn't have taken place if it weren't for Christ first doing it for us.
One of the church members wrote a reflection on the day, and in it he described Juliet's reaction (emphasis mine):
Even as she witnessed all of us working away, I don’t think she fully understood the extent of what it was we were going to be doing for her and her son. I also heard her keep apologizing and saying, “I won’t have anything left to do. You won’t leave me with anything left to clean.” That scene was such a vivid reflection of how some of us may have been (and might still be) reluctant to let go of our sin and/or the things of this world that provided us with a false sense of security and value, when a life with Christ means the promise of being made whole. How much newer and more precious are the robes that our Father would envelop us with if we would just let go of the ragged sackcloth we cling on to so dearly? I wonder how many times we’ve been tempted to ask God to leave us something to do or something to clean when He’s the only one that can renew our hearts and only His sacrifice was sufficient. How many times have we as clay reached out and told the Potter how we think we should look and what areas in our life are fine the way they are and what areas we need fixed, when only by His hands can we be made perfect?I think it was the perfect Serve Sunday to take place just before Lent. Because I think that's what Lent is all about... letting God come in and clean house for us. It's a chance for us to let go of our sackcloth and ashes and let Christ replace it with something much more beautiful.