Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Want Fries With That?

(Originally printed as an ecumenical column for The News Herald of Franklin, PA) 

This past Wednesday many Christian communities celebrated the traditional feast day of Ash Wednesday. Many of my colleagues around the country (and by colleagues I mean Christian leaders of churches of many denominations including Evangelical Lutheran, and United Methodist, as well as our church- Episcopal) were involved in a movement called “Ashes to Go.” 

A2G is intended to provide an opportunity for those who do not attend church or not able to get to church that day (don't get too caught up in the reason) to receive the imposition of ashes. I’m always looking for that thin place where the veil is parted between the secular and faith communities—where the church spills into the world which she is in, but not of, so what the heck, riiiiiiiiight?

I saw some reports of coffee shop ashes, parking lot ashes, office building ashes, and even drive-thru ashes (with that one you get a tri-fold brochure on the sacraments and a free Lenten meditations book.) What, no toy? But is this too far? Is this cheap grace? 

If I stood in front of the Bossa Nova Coffee Shop, in Franklin, PA, and reminded people, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” what would I accomplish? If you missed me out there on Wednesday it’s because I wasn’t there. I was still uncomfortably riding the fence.
 
I do a great deal of social networking, “ministering to and counseling people” through chat boxes and Google “hangouts.” It’s not the same as face to face, but the ministry is important. I would say the ministry is imperative. I find myself in conversations that are profoundly spiritual and deeply moving. I try to make the time to leave the church and go “out” to where the people who are hurting so often express their pain.

So, I’ve been praying more about this whole “Ashes to Go” thing. If I was called to the hospital to impose ashes on the forehead of a twenty year old with alcohol poisoning from the party the night before, would I go? Yes. But what about the seventy-five year old smoker who, because of his thirty year habit is unable to leave the house because even the walk to church is too far? Yes. And the grandmother who calls about her grandson who is incarcerated in jail because he beat his daughter? Yes.

If I would serve those people who are unable to come to the church, then why wouldn’t I leave God’s house to become the Body of Christ in the world and provide “Ashes to Go?” Are those who are too busy to come to church any less hungry, angry, lonely, tired, captive, or
imprisoned? 

You might ask, "But what are the intentions of those who seek ashes?" I have minimal concerns about why someone would stop for 30 seconds to receive ashes--motivations, thoughts, or otherwise. I am more concerned about why the church does A2G. 

Are her intentions God-centric? Is the minstry about bringing the church (the Body of Christ) out into the world to preach the Gospel? I mean, when someone comes to the altar of God seeking the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, I don't ask anyone's intentions. That is between God and God's people. For the same reason, I can't imagine ever asking why (s)he stops for ashes. 

However, in the interest of being wise as the serpent and innocent as the dove, and keeping watch for false prophets, I think the question of "Why is the church doing this?" is a valid question that demands a response that is Christological and Theological in thought and purpose. 

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent. The very word “Lenten” derives from the lengthening of days—a preparation for new growth. This is historically to be a time for preparing folk for Christian initiation or providing an opportunity for those who have been excommunicated and separated from the church to be reconciled to her and to God. 

Maybe the best preparing the Body of Christ can do is to allow God to prepare us for a different understanding of what is church, who is church, to whom do we belong, and who is our neighbor? How best do we do mission and ministry in God’s creation? God is making all things new. This includes the church, me, and you too.

Join us in worship at 7:30, 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Sunday mornings as we strive to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ as his disciples in all we do, growing more and more into people of faith, hope and love, nourished by God's Word and Sacraments.

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