By The Rev. Sherry Deets

Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A friend shares one of childhood experiences. He said there was an assumed rule in the house. Whenever someone in the family saw an important person come up the driveway, he or she was legally, ethically and morally responsible to scream, “Fire Drill!” Whoever was within earshot of those resounding words was obligated to find anything on the floor that did not belong—like clothes, dishes, magazines, newspapers—gather them up and run to a back room, throw the junk inside and close the door. Each of us when then required to regroup, slap on a smiling face, wait for the door bell to ring, and when the front door was opened, say, “Oh! What a surprise! Come in and see us as we always are.” Sound familiar?

Many times we do that to God. When the Lord comes knocking on the door of our hearts, we plead, “Please don’t ask me to open that back room in my heart and reveal all the trash I have accumulated. Please don’t ask me to ‘rend my heart’ and allow that sinful junk to spill out. They are my secrets, and I am afraid of what you will see.”

Our reluctance to return to God with all of our heart stems from the fear in confronting the truth within ourselves. It is difficult to probe below the surface and take a hard look at our sins. It is easier to bask in the light of denial than to stare into the darkness of truth. It is more comfortable to look the other way than to come face to face with reality. Yet, we are called to a true, honest, veneer-breaking repentance.

It is has been said that “genuine religious conversions are blessed defeats” (attributed to C.S. Lewis) This means that we must come clean, confessing and exposing our whole hearts to God, even those areas we have hidden away. We are called to do this not because God is angry that we have been hiding something. God is intimately aware of what we have tried to keep hidden. We are called to come clean because confessing and exposing requires us to let go of the ownership of our hearts and allow God to take over. It requires us to let go of pride and take comfort in our complete dependence upon God. It requires us to let go of sin and embrace the healing that comes through God’s forgiveness in Christ.

The mark of the cross we will receive is imposed with a vertical stroke that could be a capital “I”. The capital “I” is followed by a horizontal stroke of crossing it out. The “I” that is crossed out is the “I” that leads to feelings of alienation from God. It is as if in the horizontal stroke the loving arms of Christ are stretched out to welcome me back home. The wiping away of the “I” that separates me from God gives me the freedom and the ability to reach out to my brothers and sisters.

The cross of ashes is a call to repent of the ‘sin’ that I allow to separate me from God – a call to forgiveness and wholeness—and at the same time, the cross of ashes is formed by my personal relationship with God intersecting with my solidarity, my commonality, with all the others for whom Christ died.

Why not return to God will all of your heart and experience the abundance of God’s steadfast love? Return to God with all your sins and bathe them in the lather of God’s forgiveness. Return to God with all your vulnerabilities and be drenched in God’s acceptance. Return to God with all your tears and allow God’s warm blanket of grace to dry them all. Come clean and be made clean. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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