Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ashes and Oil

While preparing my last sermon for this season of Lent, I was struck by a frame to our Lenten journey.  Many of us began our Lenten trek with the imposition of ashes.   The gospel reading for the last Sunday of Lent was the story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with oil.

Both acts are intimate, sacrificial and transformative.

Never have I felt worthy of the task of marking others with ash, yet I perform it out of an understanding of its benefit to their journey.  My upbringing did not include this rite and so I lack the shaping as a child that might gird my activity.  As much, it is an act that invades my sense of personal space and decorum.  Finally, there is something uncomfortable about being reminded of our finitude and frailty as the ashes speak to us ... “dust to dust”.  Deep in my soul, I find it right and good to mark and to be mark by these ashes.

There was a level of discomfort in the room as Mary performed her intimate act of anointing Jesus’ feet, with oil, using her hair, before others.  Using expensive perfume, she sacrificed significant resources for this rite.  Her act transformed her relationship with Jesus.  Jesus makes Mary a model for others because of her action.

What of this frame of ash and oil?  

As the frame of any meaningful journey, a desire and intent may be discovered in the elements.

Lent is a season of preparation.  We examine our lives in preparation for Holy Week, most specifically for celebration of the empty tomb and our risen Lord.  How appropriate that we would begin with an element that humbles us.  Rather than a journey begun of confidence and sure footedness, we begin as penitent pilgrims.  

We leave the season of preparation with the element of oil.  Oil that anoints kings who enter triumphant into the capital of our souls.  Oil that anoints the body for burial into a tomb that cannot hold the life of our Lord.  O death where is thy sting?

The elements of ash and oil are symbolic of a desire and intent.  We receive the ashes upon our skin.  Jesus received the oil upon his feet.  

We receive the Good News of Easter.  The humility of ashes is a posture of the soul that prepares us to receive the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness.  We anoint our risen Lord with our adoration and thanksgiving in response to the grace of God discovered.

May your celebration of Holy Week find you moved from receiving that which humbles you to giving adoration to the one who saves you.