I have an idea. It came to me about 3am this morning which is when most of my ideas come. The problem is that by the time the sun comes up and its bright enough to write them down I can’t remember my own name much less the idea. But this idea is different.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. It was the beginning of the Lenten Season and for many Christ-followers a sacred and holy day. The tradition of Ash Wednesday goes as far back as the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah who covered themselves with ashes to signify their mourning for the nation Israel. In the New Testament ashes were again a symbol of the recognition of our mortality and death. And in the early church Ash Wednesday came to be a day of “celebrating” the beginning of the 40 days of mourning that begin today and climax with Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion of Jesus, and then Easter Sunday.
Now in my tradition these holy events were less prominent and less celebrated. Perhaps we would think a little about Good Friday. We seldom considered making a life change for Lent and we never even discussed Ash Wednesday. Easter and Christmas were the two holy days and all we knew of celebration involved Easter lilies and poinsettias.
But yesterday Josh and I sat beside each other in a very solemn and sacred service that culminated with the priest rubbing ashes hard on my forehead in the sign of the cross. For the rest of the day I sat in counseling sessions aware that my clients were not looking at my eyes but focusing clearly on my forehead. Last night at Soup & Group my mother actually tried to spit on a napkin and rub the ash off of my face. That’s something I want to give up for Lent.
Well, back to my idea. What if, rather than a mark on my head, I put a couple of things in place for the next six weeks to remind me of just who I am in the great scheme of things? What if I tried to live just a little bit different for 40 days or so to remember that I am just dust, but such good dust that the Son of God gave His life for me?
So at 3 o’clock in the morning I had this idea, to invite you to join me in a very simple celebration of discipline. Here’s what I propose:
We read 1 chapter of the Bible each day from now until Easter. (That’s a little more than 40 days but who’s counting.) I suggest the writings of John. Start with the Gospel (21 chapters) Read the Epistles (7 chapters) And then the Revelation (22 chapters) Yeah, I know that’s 50. So sue me. Read a couple of extra once in awhile and by April 12 we will have read a huge chunk of the New Testament together. Everything written by John.
Second, we pray together 1 full day. Now you can do this one of two ways. Sometime during the next 40 days you could set aside 24 hours and just pray non-stop without eating or sleeping. I vote for number two. We can pray 36 minutes a day for 40 days. (12 minutes each morning, 12 minutes each evening, 12 minutes at night) Come on. You can do that. Think what a difference we can make by praying together for 36 minutes a day. If you skip Sunday’s by Easter we will have prayed 24 hours, I full day.
Third challenge, read a book. I suggest one of these three, Adam’s Return by Richard Rohr, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, or Believing God by Beth Moore. (Doris made me put that one in) No really, for the next 40 days give up a little TV and read one really good, life changing book.
Finally, do one selfless, anonymous act of service each week for the next six weeks. There are about 1000 of us that read this email. That is 6000 God moments in the lives of people over the next 6 weeks. That’s world changing.
What do you think? Is this a good idea or what? All I’m saying is that rather than just give something up for lent or wear ashes on your head, that you make an intentional effort to celebrate God in your life for 40 days. We may not turn the universe upside down but we will make a difference in ourselves and in our little corner of the world. I’m going to do this. Think about joining me. Oh, and we start today…right after I take a nap!
Blessed are you, O Lord our God, the all-holy one, who gives us life and all things. As we go about our lives, the press of our duties and activities often leads us to forget your presence and your love. We fall into sin and fail to live out the responsibilities that you have entrusted to those who were baptized into your Son.
In this holy season, help us to turn our minds and hearts back to you. Lead us into sincere repentance and renew our lives with your grace. Help us to remember that we are sinners, but even more, help us to remember your loving mercy.
As we live through this Ash Wednesday, may the crosses of ashes that mark our foreheads be a reminder to us and to those we meet that we belong to your Son. May our worship and prayer and penitence this day be sustained throughout these 40 days of Lent. Bring us refreshed and renewed to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter.
We ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.