Opinion

Ash Wednesday for a broken and grieving minister – Baptist News Global

A dear friend of mine recently took me to see “Rent,” the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical. The drama follows the story of friends living with AIDS in New York City at the turn of the century. Toward the end of the musical, Angel, a character who is caring, radiant and kind, succumbs to her disease. In this poignant scene, friends and loved ones gather tearfully around her hospital bed, singing songs of comfort.

In that moment, I lost it. Grief sneaks up on you when you least expect it, reminding you afresh of what you could never forget.

Last week I sat with a small team of ministers to plan our Ash Wednesday service. We split the worship experience into three charges: a need to confess, a need to reconcile and a need to journey. Lines from the old hymn, “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” are sung intermittently throughout the service, echoing our three charges.

The first stanza, familiar to most Protestant Christians, goes like this:

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Come ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore.
Jesus ready stands before you, full of pity, love, and power.
I will arise and go to Jesus. He will embrace me in his arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior, O, there are ten thousand charms.

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A need to confess

I cherish the focus on sin and confession during Ash Wednesday. For many Baptists, this may sound weird. We don’t speak of these things often. We also fail to articulate to younger people, whether believers or seekers, what sin is. Big time.

God is good. God is love. Sin is anything that moves us away from those things.
I don’t often look to see what is creating distance between myself and Good. Or between myself and Love. Ash Wednesday draws these things to my attention and pushes me to sit amongst my missteps.

Come ye sinners and be aware of your sin.

A need to reconcile

I need to reconcile with myself and my sin, but this year I also need to reconcile with God.

Come ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore.
Jesus ready stands before you, full of pity, love, and power.

As I worked on the Ash Wednesday service and read these words, grief struck again. The words took me back to waiting in the hospital room, back to watching the musical. The lines of a 261-year-old hymn were describing me.

“I need to reconcile my powerless despair with Jesus’ powerful love; my known anger with a mysterious God.”

Grief hits at unexpected times.

Two months ago, my mother died suddenly. I spent that first few weeks feeling completely shocked, overwhelmingly tired and shattered to bits. My sisters and I grappled with anger, grief and confusion – and we continue to do so.

In the past, I typically thought of reconciliation in terms of repentance, apologies or how my parents used to force me to “reconcile” with my sisters after we fought as kids. This year, my view of reconciliation is far more than that.

This Ash Wednesday, I need to reconcile my grief with God. I need to reconcile my powerless despair with Jesus’ powerful love; my known anger with a mysterious God. This Ash Wednesday, I will try to reconcile with a Jesus who stands ready before me to offer love. I will try to find his hand in the midst of my darkness, a brokenness that has nothing to do with my sin.

A need to journey

The biblical phrase, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return,” holds all new meaning when you have recently witnessed death. It simultaneously gives comfort and causes annoyance. My mother believed with her whole heart and whole soul that she was created and loved by God. She believed that she would return to God when she died.

But I believe she was too young to return just yet.

I will arise and go to Jesus. He will embrace me in his arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior, O, there are ten thousand charms.

On Ash Wednesday, I will repeat this refrain. I will see it, feel it, hope for it. I pray that my mother had peace as she arose and went to Jesus. I pray with all my heart that Jesus was there to embrace her in his arms.

I am angry and bitter and tired and broken, but I am hopeful that my mother is being held in love by someone, somewhere, now that I can no longer hold her in my arms.

From dust you came and to dust you shall return.

On Ash Wednesday, I will reflect on the sin that moves me away from good, from love and from God. I will reflect on the brokenness in my life that has nothing to do with my own sin but simply reflects the cracks from life being really damn hard. I will try to reconcile with a Jesus who holds out his arms to me, and I will try to journey alongside him.

I will remain broken, always. Even Jesus cannot magically fix the cracks, the imperfections that blemish my soul. But Jesus can offer me something that no one else can: good that is unblemished, love that is unconditional and hope that is for the broken.

Related commentary:

Mark Wingfield | I became a pastor who had trouble praying

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