40-Day Bare Face: Day 8 – Marked

I read someone else’s Ash Wednesday post  from last week today, finally winding my way down to that part of my feed. These lines struck me:

“These ashes are a sign.
A sign, like baptism, that it is time to go into the desert.
Come what may.
Come what may.”
 I didn’t get to go to an Ash Wednesday service this year, but I did, on that day, have a significant meeting. I confessed a heavy heart and my team and I prepared for me to step away (or down?) from the ministry we have all shared since August– that some of us have shared for nearly three years. 
It is time to go into the desert
I told them.

If we had had an Ash Wednesday service at my church, I would have still had to tell them that, only I would have gotten to do it with an obvious sign smeared onto my forehead.

I think the ashes from the Ash Wednesday service are supposed to be from the burned Palm fronds from last year’s Palm Sunday– branches left over from a triumphal entry, riddled with mangled expectations and selfish hopes of Jewish people looking for something else– branches charred and obliterated, the remnants of the herald for a King, now that we know how the story plays out, who came to die.

What is it that we’re officially celebrating on Palm Sunday again? Why do we celebrate that as a church?  I can’t remember.

Or maybe it’s just that I can’t remember right now. 

When I look in the mirror, I don’t see triumph–I don’t see the finish of the story. With a bare face and the barrenness of my ministry calendar,

 all I see are ashes and desert.
And I can’t wash my ashes off. 
I won’t wash my ashes off until it’s time.

 I donned a bare face to try to answer the question “Am I enough?” I’ve gone into the desert to answer that question, but also a bigger one:

Is God enough? 
Is God enough when I can’t see if there’s anything beyond the desert? 
Is God enough when I’ve been so hungry I’ve mistaken the stones for bread? 

Those ashes are liturgically a mark of mourning–the Church family’s collective mourning of its sin that needed the Cross.

But for me, they are a mark of love.

I’ve been counted worthy to wear them. 
Neither my sin, nor my bare face has the power to demand shame. 
 And the desert may be dry and dark, 
But for some reason,  I’ve been counted worthy to go.
And I know don’t have to go alone.

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