Q: Dear Pastor,
I don’t want to be a smudge-head on Ash Wednesday, but I want to honor the Lenten fast. Is this illegal?
A: I’m laughing at your terminology! And a hearty thank-you for bringing a little comedy into the religiosity of the Lenten season. Jesus was not big on religion either, nor did he enjoy the pomp-and-circumstance of the Pharisees’ plethora of rituals meant for public display. Do we need to show the world that we are observing a religious holiday? What does it mean when we do that and what happens if we don’t?
The Bible holds within it a section known by Christians and theologians as “wisdom literature.” These are the books written mainly by King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, who was the son of King David, the man after God’s own heart. The two great kings were linked by blood just like the two body parts they represent: The heart and the mind. God looks at the heart and decides what lies behind our public persona. It isn’t about whether or not you get yourself smudged on Ash Wednesday. It’s about what it means in your heart and why you do it. It’s about intention and motivation. Your desire to participate in Ash Wednesday’s kick-off to a Lenten fast demonstrates your heart-condition toward the Lord. Your anti-smudge idea may be a privacy issue - you want to honor God without drawing attention to yourself. It’s all good. However, if fear of being discovered a Christian and labeled among the religious-set is your reason for not receiving the ashes of Lent ... I advise you caution. When we are ashamed of our citizenship in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, he is ashamed of us.
Everything in God’s view of things is a matter of the heart. God doesn’t look at our exterior (although he loves his creation and designed our looks in perfect harmony with his will). God sees through us and well beyond our crafted reputations and public image. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2, NASB). “Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:12). God is the ultimate accountability, who literally records our ways and deeds in a book he holds in heaven. (This is mentioned in Psalm 56.) While the surveillance may make us all uncomfortable, it should also spur us on toward the best life possible in God’s eyes: His book of deeds is the one he’ll use to dole out the crowns on judgment day.
Ash Wednesday gives us a forehead full of conversation starters. I admire folks who take their lunchtime for noon Mass or midday service in order to travel through the rest of their day representing the God who beat back the devil when he had him surrounded. The ashes demand that we are bold as we kindly respond to “What’s that smudge on your head?” I also understand the folks who begin Lent privately and with honor for the one who died on a cross. True faith is a relationship with Jesus, not a religion about it. Sometimes we want our privacy during intimate moments with him, too.
Whatever we do and however we do it, let us launch our Lenten march to the cross alongside Christ on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 26.
Do you have a question or comment for Pastor Adrienne? Send your inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 214, Harrison, OH 45030. For more information on Pastor Adrienne, or to purchase her book, “Ask Pastor Adrienne: 100 Best-loved Columns,” please visit www.adriennewgreene.com.
Ask Pastor Adrienne: I like Ash Wednesday but not the smudge
Q: Dear Pastor,