I attended a church last Sunday where, during the announcement time, they shared about how they would be participating in Ash Wednesday. What they are doing is providing the opportunity, over several hours during the day, for folks to drive up to the church’s covered turn around, roll down their window, receive the imposition of ashes, and be on their way. I’ve been thinking about that ever since Sunday.
Part of me applauds what I think they are trying to do. For those who know me you know I am a big fan of innovation. I love new things and creative ways of offering good news. So part of me says, “good for them.” They are trying to offer an opportunity for busy people who don’t have a lot of time to participate in Ash Wednesday. They want to give people who have half an hour for lunch a chance to experience a positive beginning to their Lenten journey. So again a part of me says “Amen” to that.
But another part of me worries a bit about the message we’re sending. A part of me worries if we are missing the point this year when, for the first time since the end of WWII, Ash Wednesday falls on the same day as Valentine’s Day. The comparison between what is most often the primarily feeling based expressions of love that tend to surround Valentine’s Day and the much deeper sacrificial love that is reflected in Ash Wednesday and Lent are a contrast to which we should pay attention. What proports to be love in our culture often falls far short of what the Christian faith identifies as love. Too often, Valentine’s Day love focuses on what I get from it and if I don’t get what I want then you’re not going to be my love very long. It is a consumer love that is ultimately incredibly shallow.
The love represented in our faith is love that is centered around a cross and the process of picking up that cross for ourselves in the various situations, circumstances, and relationships of our lives. It requires of us to love our enemies. It requires forgiveness and grace towards those who not only don’t ask for it, but who boldly stand defiant in their ongoing willingness to keep doing what they are doing (Luke 23:34). Ash Wednesday love requires of us a commitment to a course of living that reflects Jesus to a world that does not understand what real love is. And it requires of us a willingness to die for that same course of love rather than to give it up. and that reality takes me back to my drive-up friends.
I know their hearts are in the right place. And I may be wrong in my assessment (it certainly wouldn’t be the first time!!). But drive-up ashes seem to me to be Valentine’s Day love; easy, convenient, not very costly at all. Jesus love and the love he calls us to live out is so much more, so much deeper, so much more about a willingness to do whatever it takes to live it out even if it costs us everything we have. Maybe it’s me, but drive-up ashes just seem to fall short.