I cannot ever remember experiencing an Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day.
As I sat with the idea, I thought of a strange “what if.” What if (and please let me play this out before moving to outrage) we made Ash hearts on our foreheads to start Lent?
Consider the symbolic, metaphoric, and more-than-literal possibilities by such a declaration.
There are the metaphoric heart conditions:
Hearts a fire…Hearts ablaze…
There is metaphoric action of the heart:
From the Ashes to Go service, “We take to heart God’s call to repentance and the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel, and practice in our lives the work of reconciliation.”
There is metaphoric transformation of the heart:
Hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. New and contrite hearts.
And then, the heart as love:
Jesus in the Gospel of Mark: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength….You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:29-31)
Or perhaps even more concise, Jesus in The Gospel of John: “Love one another as I have loved you." (John 15:12)
An ash heart would work…and might be better understood by the world.
However, the cross is our “Heart of Christianity,” to invoke the title of Marcus Borg’s best known book. The cross is the more-than-literal heart of our faith. The true impact of ash and the cross are revealed in Paul’s writings, as explored by Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book “The First Paul”.
The Cross — The Roman imperial reaction to the love taught and lived out by Jesus.
The Roman cross is the brutal, violent action of an unjust execution.
But we Christians, see in crucifixion the depth of God’s love for us as revealed in God’s son…who died not in our place for sin, but died because of his love for God’s people and his passion for a different kind if life for all of God’s creation. (see “The First Paul”, p. 142)
The meaning of resurrection then becomes clear. Where the Romans sought to disparage and disgrace, we see new, sacred life: Jesus is Lord…Caesar is not (be it the Caesar of then, or the Caesars of today).
Peace and love and non-violence and justice, summed up as God’s righteousness, is to be distributed to and for everyone.
Ashes are an outward and visible sign of the transformation that we are called to be part of: active participants in God’s creation of a transformed world.
This is the way for God, and the way for Jesus, and the way for us.
(Thanks to Shannon and Rhonda who helped me create the image.)