I love Ash Wednesday. It’s not something I realized that I loved until I started planning the worship service for tonight, but it is something that I love.
All throughout seminary there was this hesitation to admit that we were incapable – on our own – to contribute anything to God’s mission, that we brought nothing to the table that wasn’t given to us by God and directed by the Holy Spirit, and that we are hopelessly broken without God and Christ’s salvific* act on the cross. In the ordination process, too, there is a weird push-back if you place any emphasis on your unworthiness of the call of professional ministry.
I find this weird because I am a Presbyterian, and a strong Reform Presbyterian at that, and I went to a Presbyterian seminary and currently in the process of being ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA). I’m not quite a TULIP but Total Depravity has always been one of my theological pillars. I have always known that I’m pretty screwed up, and that I can’t stop sinning, and I never see anyone else living without sin. Total Depravity just seems like the logical theological position, given my reading of scripture and anecdotal observation of the world.
I think the push-back is because no one – myself included – really describes the absolutely joyous truth behind Total Depravity. We get to caught up on the sinful part of the Total Depravity – and the correct discomfort that comes from it – that we forget that the whole point of that is the relationship with Christ that our brokenness necessitates. The theology of Total Depravity is really a theology of hope that despite our brokenness, despite the sins that we commit every hour, we are saved and in a loving and caring relationship with our God, a God whom came to Earth and suffered our condition to save us.
364** days a year we try to ignore and/or downplay depravity and focus on forgiveness. 1 day a year we focus on our penance. Never do the penance focus and forgiveness focus meet. Forgiveness is light and bright, penance dark and heavy and oppressive.
I guess it just always melted together for me because I find comfort in melancholy and darkness. It never made sense that it wouldn’t just feel comfortable to know you’re a sinner because I always knew the punchline of salvation. It just made sense to me, and I couldn’t rationalize why there would be so much push-back when it came down to talking about it.
364 we ignore it, 1 day a year it’s all that we see. We mark ourselves (or at least some do; I don’t, but that’s another story), we sit in ashes, and we confess. And because we have a single-focus, we forget the hope that it is.
“Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, very patient, full of faithful love, and ready to forgive.” – Joel 2:13 CEB
This is a day to return to God – prostrate, but knowing that you are saved – and return to the calls and talents that God has placed in your life.
This blog is my major spiritual discipline, and you can see how much I have neglected that part of my life, citing being too busy and too tired and you name it. I know that I’m saved, but I know that my soul needs healing, my spiritual life needs discipline, and I know that need to return to it. My desk is a mess, my sermon for…5 hours from now isn’t finalized, and I haven’t eaten lunch yet, but I’m returning to a discipline of spiritual life.
Reflect on the darkness of your soul and of your sin, but know that the disciplines and penance are to show us hope and strengthen our relationship with God, not to create more darkness in our lives. Focus not specifically on the sins of your soul, but on the necessity of the love that you are freely given.
Return to God, the God of love.
*Totally a word.
**365 this year.