by Christine Sine
Today, I sacrificed a one of my precious masks for the sake of Ash Wednesday. Normally I burn a stack of palm crosses and fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration just as many churches do. This year, there are no crosses or fronds because we had just begun our COVID lockdown. So this year, one of my masks that had passed their use by date seemed like a fitting substitute.
This year’s ritual has had a profound impact on me that I wanted to share with you. As I look back to the beginning of the lockdown last year, I am reminded of how grateful we all were for our masks. They protected us and our loved ones and brought us life, just as Christ’s death on the Cross still protects us from the consequences of our brokenness and brings us into the life of the kingdom of God.
However, as I burn my masks, I am also reminded of the fickleness that the palm fronds and crosses and masks represent. Like many who shouted joyously as they followed Jesus into Jerusalem, I would probably have been ready to crucify him by the end of the week. Human nature is so fickle and we don’t have to look back 2,000 years to see that. We are sick of our masks and would like to burn them, might I say, to crucify them.
As I prepared for my little ritual, it was not hard to imagine that the little pile of ashes I end up with symbolized death as we have certainly seen a lot of death this year. We prepare for Lent with a symbol of death. We literally rub it on our faces. We end Lent preparing for a death – the death of Christ on the Cross. Lent surrounds us with a circle of death, but that same circle is a circle of life, life of the kingdom of God that the season of Lent is preparing us for. Maybe we should be rubbing that on our faces, too, because our journey will not end when Lent ends. In fact, it will just be beginning. We are preparing for life not for death, we are preparing for the kingdom not for the Cross.
You may not want to burn some of your masks on Wednesday. You might prefer, as our church, St Andrews Episcopal church in Seattle encouraged us to do, to build an Ash Wednesday Bonfire at Home with a time of confession but ending with roasting of marshmallows. I have decided to incorporate this, and as you can see in the photo, I am burning a few post-it notes with my “confessions” on them as well. This is a process I always find very therapeutic, so with the two practices combined I feel I am well prepared for the beginning of Lent on Wednesday.
What Is Your Response?
Whatever you decide to do, as you begin Lent this year, take time to reflect on your focus. Are you thinking about the sacrifices you will need to make and the things you will give up, or are you focused on the new life those sacrifices make possible? What practices will do you plan to institute to keep your focus on life rather than death?