Ash Wednesday, Lent and the Cross

From the side, it isn’t much of a cross sitting there on the communion table. A thin sliver of metal pointing toward the ceiling makes me wonder what all the fuss is about. With apologies to Monty Python it appears to be more a wafer thin mint than an instrument of death.

Now, the crown of thorns hanging on it looks rather menacing. Those thorns would hurt, but would they kill a man? Wound? Yes, to be certain and left untreated a nasty infection might follow, but death by thorns seems a stretch.

No, to kill Jesus with this cross we would have to take hold of it and beat him with it. One hit would likely not be enough. Death would come after repeated blows.  Then we would have bludgeoned him to death. Surely, none of us have the stomach for that.

Jesus is safe.

Safe that is, unless of course he persists in this notion of living in me. Then I have a thousand ways to put him to death, to make his living irrelevant, to make his teaching impractical and his dying mere nostalgia.

So then, maybe this cross is not the cross of Christ meant for his killing. Maybe it is my cross.  A cross meant to remind me each day that I am the one that needs to do the dying as impossible as that may be.

How is it possible? I never have to be reminded to think of myself, to serve myself, to protect myself, to do what is best for me. Only through indulgence, sloth and pride do I harm myself. Where would I find the will, the courage to die so that he might live in me?

Is it possible that God’s grace is that sufficient?


We have a Leak!

“We have a leak!” Those are frightening words to hear if you live near or work in a facility that produces or stores hazardous material. Dreadful words, if it is your job to make sure that those materials do not leak. Troublesome words indeed, if it is your job to stop the leak and clean up the mess that has been made. Those words can be just as frightening, dreadful and troublesome when the leak is not hazardous and not in a nearby plant, but in your home.

“We have a leak! I can hear it.” The first response in any crisis situation comes from a well-prepared public relations department. I can do this in my sleep, which is good because I still am half asleep. “No, you must be mistaken.”

“No, we have a leak.”

“No, we don’t. Are you sure? Maybe, it just sounds like a leak.”

“It is a leak!”

“How can you be sure? Can you see it? If you can’t see it, you can’t be sure that it is a leak.”

“Get out of bed and see for yourself!”

“Well, if it is a leak and we don’t yet know that it is, maybe it is not a very bad leak.”

“Get in here!”

The time for public relations is done, which is just as well because I had very little expectation of being able to talk my way out of a leak, since she is almost always right about these things. Well, ok, she is always right about these things. At any rate, it is time to get some boots on the ground and do a little reconnaissance.

So there I am standing in the bathroom that I have spent the better part of my life remodeling, or so it seems, and I hear it in all of its frightening, dreadful, troublesome fury. It is not a leak, it is a deafening cascade. It is a torrent of water rushing from the confines of a copper pipe to the sweet liberty of the wall behind my new shower and ultimately to the ground beneath my house.

I need a chaplain. I am spiritually distressed. I hear water dripping, but how do I get to it? Not through any of the freshly painted walls in this room, I can promise you that! Through the bedroom, up the hall and into the other bathroom, I am looking at the wall that is shared with the bathroom that I just left. Looking down, I see wet wall board. We have found our entry point.

After removing a sink, a bathroom countertop and a two-foot by eight-foot section of wall board, I am looking at the water pipes that supply my shower. There is the leak. The good news is the leak is in the pipe and not in one of the joints where I put the pipe together while remodeling the bathroom. It is a small consolation, but at this point I need whatever I can get.

Finally it is time to go to the home improvement store. Getting the few items I need to fix the leak should be no problem. Talking to the man with the gentle voice in the plumbing aisle, I wonder out loud if I should buy a pipe cutter fearing that I might not be able to locate the one that I already have. He discourages me saying that a pipe cutter will add six or seven dollars to my bill. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I let his frugal urgings keep me from purchasing the pipe cutter. Even as I leave the store without it, I know that I am making a big mistake. I know that I will not be able to find it, but I drive all the way home to prove my point. Then I go back to the store to buy a pipe cutter. After that, the repair is easily accomplished.

I did not like having to buy a tool that I knew I already possessed. Having a tool and not knowing its location is frustrating. Having a tool and not knowing how to use it is also frustrating. That happened to me the first time that I used a pipe cutter and it made the job more difficult than it should have been.

As we journey toward Jerusalem during this Lenten season, we face a similar problem, though in a spiritual way. Calvary is not a tool, not something that we can hold in our hand and manipulate. It is a gift—a life changing gift. What God did in Christ makes it possible for us to be in the most profound of relationships. In Christ, God brings us into God’s family. We become sons and daughters of God, children of God, in a way that we were not before Christ, before Calvary, before Easter.

A lifetime is not enough time to experience the mystery and wonder of this gift. Yet, too often we go in the other direction. We are content to store this amazing gift in the garages and utility rooms of our lives. When emergencies arise we go looking for it. If we are fortunate, we find it in the last place we left it. An experience we had long ago at youth camp, a memorable moment in Vacation Bible School, a warm sensation when our first child was born, we remember that God has spoken to us through the years and has been near our lives. Looking back, we remember something exciting and fresh, an encounter with God. But having left it in the corners of our lives gathering dust, it does not seem to fit where we are now.

We know we have it, but we do not know quite what to make of it or do with it. We have often heard about God, God’s love, grace and mercy. Yet, in the midst of our failures and difficulties, we find ourselves unaware of how that love, grace and mercy might repair our lives and point us toward hope.

The relationship that God wants with each of us is not a one time event. It is an ongoing, everyday experience. Often times we hear people talking about what they are giving up for Lent. I wonder if we might not be better served if we took a different approach. What if we added something for Lent? What if each day for just a few minutes we took the time to ponder the wonders of this thing that God has done for us?