OK, once again I’m breaking my self-imposed blogging fast. I can’t keep away . . . and beware – heresies lie ahead!
Tonight I paid our babysitter $20 to watch our kids so I could go to the Ash Wednesday service at church (with a child who goes to bed at 7pm, and another at 8pm, there was no way I could bring them both to church tonight). Why did I pay to go to church? I think it’s because tonight’s service was all about me.
Of all the services throughout the church year, Ash Wednesday seems to be the one that is most about us. This statement is not based on any liturgical study, but simply from 32 years of attending Lutheran congregations. From these years of riding the Lutheran pine, I get that Christmas is about Christ’s birth, Good Friday about his death, Easter about his resurrection.
Ash Wednesday, though, is different. It is the only service that I can think of where we Lutherans intentionally and directly look back on ourselves. Within the first few minutes of the liturgy you are being smeared with dirty ashes and being reminded that "you are dust." Later in the service, as we return to the altar, the words are a bit more comforting and holy – "The body of Christ, given for you." Christ. Given. For you. These are good words. Words about a God who comes to us. But those earlier words – "you are dust" – are words, well, just about us and some dust.
Surely an Ash Wednesday service done well is not just an exercise in self-flagellating navel-gazing. Surely there are "God" words that reveal to us the Good News even as they simultaneously remind us of our need for such good news (this, in fact, was the case at my church tonight). However, there is something to the words, to the "feel" of the Ash Wednesday service that is distinct from all other of our annual or weekly liturgies. There is something deeply introspective and reflective in this liturgy, something that forces us to look at ourselves and admit our fragility and brokenness. There’s something, well, uncharacteristically self-involved – narcissistic? – about this liturgy, particularly its opening moments.
Perhaps that is why I paid to go to church tonight. Perhaps I like the Ash Wednesday service so much because, after all, it’s about me. No theological leaps to make, folks. For a chunk of this service, I’m talking about me, plain and simple. And even if it is in a penitential, confessional tone, my ego is still somehow satisfied when I talk about myself.
But who am I kidding? It’s not just Ash Wednesday that is all about me. Ash Wednesday is actually not unique at all. Every Sunday I gather to hear a story and feast on a meal that is given to me, because God loves me. It’s all about me. Jesus came for me. The body of Christ is given for me. Jesus loves me.
I don’t worship God because God is great. No way. I’m not that pious or holy. Instead, I worship God in response to what God first does for me – I’m self-centered in that way. God reaches out to me, claims me, and makes me his. It’s all about me. Everything else is just a response.