Candy Dust to Dust

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You’ll never believe what happened when Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday fell on the same day, back in 2018.

Here’s what happened:

I had left the house in a rush, grabbing my stuff and wishing my wife an “I love you!” as I ran for the door.  I had to make it to church in time for the come-and-go imposition of ashes. We decided not to have a service this year, opting instead for a couple hour-long spans when people could come to the church, receive ashes and a devotion booklet, and be invited to pray in silence.

There were already a couple people sitting in pews waiting when I got to the sanctuary.  I dropped my stuff in the front pew and reached in my satchel for my vial of ashes—and it wasn’t there!  Instead I found a bag of Valentines candy.  Little candy hearts I was going to pass out to my staff and family that evening.

I stood there, paralyzed, as another person came into the sanctuary.  The man walked down the aisle right to me, brushing away his hair so I could impose the ashes that I didn’t have.

Panicking, and not knowing what else to do, I ripped open the bag of hearts, grabbed one, and placed it in the man’s palm.  Looking down, we read together what it said:  “Be Mine”.

He looked at me, startled.  Straight-faced, I muttered, “Repent and believe the Gospel.” He slowly turned away, as if trying to decide if he was supposed to eat it or not.

There was a line now.  The woman behind him stepped forward, and tentatively held out her hand.  I pulled another one out.  It said, “Hot Stuff”.  Obviously that wouldn’t do, so I popped it in my mouth, said a silent prayer, and pulled out another.  “True Love.”  That was more like it.

“Repent and believe the Gospel,” I said, placing it in her hand.  She smiled.  That was a good sign. The line was all the way down the aisle, now.  Would I have enough appropriate hearts to pass out?  I said another silent prayer.

The next one surprised me: “Have Faith”.  The one after that said, “I Forgive.”  Amazed, I pulled another and gasped.  It said, “Died 4 U”.  People were leaving with tears in their eyes now.  I had to wipe a few away myself.  In later days people would tell me it was the most moving Ash Wednesday they could remember.  Believe me, I gave God all the credit.

As the last person left the sanctuary, I looked down in the bag.  One heart left.  Bracing, I pulled it out.  It said “Dust 2 Dust”.

Indeed.  Wiping the candy dust from my hands, I sank down into the pew and began my own Lenten journey.  I tried to quiet my mind, but the thought wouldn’t leave me…

If God could make Valentines Day into a meaningful observance of Ash Wednesday,

What might God do with April Fool’s Day and Easter?

Have a good week,

Mitch

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SUPRISE! ASH WEDNESDAY!

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Today is Ash Wednesday, and it’s earrllyyy this year!

This is the earliest we’ll have Ash Wednesday for at least the next decade.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still humming Christmas songs.  I’m still finding decorations in corners of my house. I’m still paying holiday bills, and now I’m shocked to find Lent knocking at the door.

Wow.  Really?  Ash Wednesday doesn’t really lend itself to being a surprise party.  You know?

But if this Holy Day has sneaked up on you the way it’s sneaked up on me, then what do we do about it?

How can we invest ourselves in a season of Lent that has come a week or two too early for our personal preference?

Here are three ideas for dealing with an Ash Wednesday Surprise:

  1.  Be gracious.  If you’ve ever had a surprise party thrown on your behalf, then you know that the best thing to do is to act like this is the best thing ever!  Even if you weren’t ready for the shock and awe, there’s an art to being a good guest of honor.   If you find yourself at an Ash Wednesday Service tonight, try to remember that this is for you.   This is how our church helps its members begin some of the most valuable preparation work we do all year.
  2. Be present.  You may be asked to set aside some of the life-practices that have been weighing you down.  Even if you might not be quite ready for the self-denial that comes with Lent, you can temporarily set all the stuff you’re carrying on the pew next to you, can’t you?  If you need to pick some of it back up after the service and take it home, not quite ready to give it up, that’s okay.  There’s still time.  But for the moment, let go and let God.
  3. Be marked.   You will likely have the opportunity to have the sign of the cross imposed in ash on your forehead.   It will be there the rest of the day–when you go to the grocery store, as you drive through Taco Bell, as you interact with friends and family and total strangers.   The funny thing is, it may publicly represent some deeper meaning than you’ve even allowed yourself to feel so far.   That’s okay.   Let it do it’s work on you.   Look in the mirror often tonight.  Rub it off on your hands so you can see the ash on your fingers.   Ash Wednesday can be powerful, so let it do it’s work.

Even if today came as a surprise to you, you can do these things, can’t you?

You can be gracious…

you can be present…

and you can be marked.

And then, you can begin.

Have a great Lent,

Mitch.

 

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The Ash Wednesday Fairy

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Are you ready?

Are you ready for the Ash Wednesday Fairy????

You know the drill…

Early on Wednesday morning, we all set out plates piled high with chocolate and hamburgers and all the other foods people give up for Lent…

And we set them out for the Ash Wednesday Fairy to steal, and take back to her lair and burn on a big bon fire.

And on that day only, if you come across somebody who is smoking, you get to yank the cigarette out of their mouth, and stomp on it, and yell, “Give it up!” before running away giggling.

And late in the evening, when we’re dozing after dinner, the Ash Wednesday Fairy sneaks in through the heating vents, and when we’re not paying attention, she smudges our foreheads with the ashes from all the food and cigarettes and stuff she’s burned.

And then, of course, we give each other presents to signify the beginning of Lent. But since Lent is a time of self-denial we don’t really give presents, we just wrap up empty boxes in newspaper.

What a great day.

At least, it could have been, if Ash Wednesday had a better marketing department.

Instead, this Holy Day is a time of quiet and reflection.

A time to begin a more solemn journey.

A time to set aside the things that distract us.

A time to be touched with the sign of the cross, with ashes made from last year’s Palm Sunday celebration.

No gifts.  No fairies.  No complicated traditions, even.

No one even gets mad at you if you forget to go.

Make of it what you will, then, this week’s Ash Wednesday, but keep this in mind:

As you and I begin this Lenten season,

A mark of ash is all we need…

to mark the occasion.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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