I’m a bit out of touch sometimes!
I saw on Facebook today about Churches in the US putting glitter in the Ash as a symbol of their support of LGBT Community.
(As a bit of an aside, I’m not sure why sparkly and LGBT are put together, seems a bit of a stereotype or caricature which doesn’t feel helpful? -but as a straight bloke I’m not wanting to tell another culture what it should (or shouldn’t) use as its symbols!)
I began to think a bit deeper about the whole idea of Glitter and Ash.
Ash Wednesday is a time when we focus is on our sinfulness, our brokenness and our mortality, maybe in an superficial, individualistic and materialistic culture this service is incredibly counter cultural.
The phrase “Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust” is very much part of our national conscientiousness as part of the funeral service of burial after the coffin is lowered down into the grave.
In this Ashing ritual we say “remember that you are but dust and to dust you will return”, something profound and shocking about the starkness of these words, the certainty that we will all someday die.
This subject is something of a taboo, in a world where we can talk about Religion, Politics and Sex as much as we like, we find that death is one of the few subjects which remains something as a society we struggle to deal with.
We live in a world obsessed by youth, beauty and vitality and reminder of death and decay is profoundly challenging.
Death makes us think about life.
What are we building in life?
What will remain when we have gone?
Have we in our lives built with Gold, Silver or Costly stones or have built with that which is perishable that will be burned up as dross… So much of what we think of as important -even in our Churches- has no lasting eternal value.
Sometimes we need to be confronted with tough and challenging truths, such as our own mortality, yet, I believe that this is only half the story, for the Christian death is not the final word.
Scripture reminds us that death does not have the final word “where O death is your sting?”
We do have the pain of death, we are in a world that is fallen, we are people who are broken, and yet we are not without Hope.
Hope glistens like diamonds in the dust (as described by Jonni Erekson Tada)
I don’t think glitter in the ash trivialises the ceremony but rather is a corrective, just as the ash is biodegradable the glitter isn’t, for the Christian the hope of Christ is steadfast and certain, stronger than the grave.
We are not defined by our fallen-ness, although we are fallen people, but the cross say we are also people made Holy and declared righteousness.
We may die, but we will also live forever.
Light cannot be put out by darkness.
Even in the darkest of situation, even in the bleakest moments, the glory of God is able to break in, often easily missed as we sadly too often focus the brokenness, rather than the glistening glimpses of the Kingdom.
Justin Welby talks movingly about the death of his daughter, and although clearly incredibly painful, he say that in the midst of his pain he sensed the love of Christ.
Corrie Ten Boom talks of her horrific time in a concentration camp and yet even in one of the most hellish places on earth she still saw with the eyes of faith signs of the Kingdom of God at work.
Too often we fail to talk seriously about the challenges of life, and pain, death and judgement, we don’t talk enough of fallen-ness or brokenness. Yet today I feel as we talk about such things we need to talk too about resurrection, healing, freedom, forgiveness, life, restoration, redemption and joy.
Today is not a day for despair.
That as we journey to the cross of Christ, and although we don’t want to rush to quickly past the cross, we know that this is not the end -but the beginning- of the story we are and remain people of the resurrection.
That said, our baptism speaks of dying to self, of our past being crucified with Christ, dead to our old ways of life in sin, but in Baptism we rise from the water symbolising both our death and our rebirth.
In our world, we see much darkness all around us, and I worry that sometimes Ash Wednesday Services reinforce our brokenness and our mortality in a crushing way, yet perhaps without trivialising the deep and profound truth of sin, death and judgement we also hint at freedom and forgiveness, resurrection, rescue and redemption.
So, I’d say put the glitter into the pile of ash, remind the world that not only do we embrace the painful truths of the human condition, we also have something that is not biodegradable but eternal, something wonderful that gleams even when everything looks bleak.
That ultimately the last word and the eternal word is not a word of despair but one of goodness and hope.
The first and the last word is Jesus.
And although the truth of Jesus can be deeply challenging to our world view and painful to our pride, he remains eternally and incorruptibly good news for all.