A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Don't Flick the Ashes Off His/Her Nose!

Ash Wednesday, the 1st day of a 40 day Lenten season that will lead us all the way into the final days of Jesus' life and his crucifixion is upon us today.

This day in which we are marked with ashes on our forehead is a stark reminder of the presence of sin, suffering, and death in our world. Notice how the Christian faith won't allow us to join our death denying culture.

Instead, Ash Wednesday reminds us of the creation story (from dust we were created) and the reality of death (to dust we shall return.) This is a day and the beginning of a season in which we come to grips with our sins, our shortcomings, our brokenness, and our complete dependence on God.

As my thumb released from her skin, a small clump of ashes detached from her forehead and fell onto; the middle of her nose.

She came to my station to receive the ashes on her forehead. I carefully dipped my thumb into the bowl of ashes and gently made the form of the cross on her forehead. As my thumb released from her skin, a small clump of ashes detached from her forehead and fell onto the middle of her nose.

"That's awkward," I thought to myself. "I'm sorry," I said to the woman who didn't know why I was apologizing to her in the middle of an Ash Wednesday service. "Some ashes fell on to your nose and if you don't mind, I can remove them if that's OK," I said in a whisper.

She nodded in agreement, still not knowing how noticeable that small clump of ashes on her nose would look to the people around her. Ashes on the forehead, we expect, but not a glob of gray powder on the middle of your nose! My pastor's ritual doesn't offer a solution for a problem such as this.

Thinking that I was going the extra mile to save this woman from any embarrassment, I accurately flicked off that tiny clump of ashes from the middle of her nose. Now, I didn't get very good grades in Physics while in High School and this little real life experience showed me why. I didn't think about the whole cause/effect scenario that one little flick of a powdery substance could have on a person's face.

My first thought upon seeing this woman's "new look" was "oh my goodness!"

Instead of the particles flying off the nose, the ashes stuck to the surface of the nose skin like metal to a magnet and ended up forming a long darkened streak from the top of her nose down to her nostril area. My first thought upon seeing this woman's "new look" was "oh my goodness!"

Knowing that something had gone really wrong following that fateful flick of my index finger, I was now forced to make another awkward comment, and yes, we were holding up the long line of worshippers who were coming to my station to receive the ashes.

"I'm really sorry. I made it even worse. You might want to check in a mirror. God bless you."

Thinking that she might huff off which she had every right to do because of my feeble attempt, she instead let out a smile, and then she started laughing, and back to her pew she went grinning all the way. The really funny thing about all of this was that we were the only two who knew what had happened!

Look for my future book, Weird Things that Happened to Me While I Was a Pastor.

That memorable experience which will someday make chapter 47 in my book, Weird Things that Happened to Me While I was a Pastorreminded me of the reality of sin in our lives. We can try to brush it aside as if a little flick of the finger will make it all go away, but instead it finds a way to stick with us, sometimes making an even bigger mark on us.

While Ash Wednesday and the forty day Season of Lent can be a difficult time for us to come face to face with the reality of sin in our lives (this is a penitential/confessional season) we also can rejoice and even let out a laugh knowing that the sign of the cross points us to a victory (nikos).

Even the smear down our noses can be wiped clean thanks to Christ's victory on the cross.

Thanks be to God!

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