A dear friend of mine took me to see the musical Rent a few weeks ago. The musical follows the story of friends living with AIDS in New York City at the turn of the century. One of the characters, Angel, who is caring, radiant, and kind, succumbs to her disease toward the end of the musical. In this scene, her friends and loved ones gather around her hospital bed, crying and singing. As I watched this scene, I lost it.
Grief hits you at unexpected times.
A few days ago, I sat with a small team of ministers and planned our Ash Wednesday service. We split the service into three parts: a need to confess, a need to reconcile, and a need to journey. Throughout the service we repeat lines from the old hymn, “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy.” It goes like this:
Come ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. Jesus ready stands before you, full of pity, love, and power. I will arise and go to Jesus. He will embrace me in his arms. In the arms of my dear Savior, O, there are ten thousand charms.
A Need to Confess
My favorite thing about Ash Wednesday is the focus on sin and confession. It sounds weird, I know. As Baptists, we don’t speak of these things often. And we fail at articulating what sin is to our younger believers. Big time.
God is good. God is love. Sin is anything that moves us away from those things.
I don’t often look to see what is creating distance between myself and Good. Or between myself and Love. Ash Wednesday draws these things to my attention and pushes me to sit with it.
Come Ye Sinners and be aware of your sin.
A Need to Reconcile
Come ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. Jesus ready stands before you, full of pity, love, and power.
As I planned the Ash Wednesday service and read these words, the grief hit all over again. I was back in the hospital room at Duke, I was back watching the musical. The lyrics were describing me.
Grief hits at unexpected times.
Two months ago, my mother died suddenly. I spent that first few weeks feeling completely shocked, overwhelmingly tired, and shattered to bits. My sisters and I grappled with anger, grief, and confusion—and we continue to do so.
When I think of reconciliation, I used to think of repentance, apologies, or how my parents used to force me to “reconcile” with my sisters after we fought as kids. This year, my view of reconciliation is not that.
This Ash Wednesday, I need to reconcile my grief with God. I need to reconcile my powerless despair with Jesus’ powerful love. My anger with a God who is good. This Ash Wednesday, I will try to reconcile with a Jesus who stands ready before me to offer love. I will try to find his hand in the midst of my darkness, a brokenness that has nothing to do with my sin.
A Need to Journey
The phrase, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return,” holds all new meaning when you recently saw death. It simultaneously gives comfort and causes annoyance. My mother believed with her whole soul that she was created and loved by God. She believed that she would return to God when she died. But I believe that she was too young to return just yet.
I will arise and go to Jesus. He will embrace me in his arms. In the arms of my dear Savior, O, there are ten thousand charms.
The last line of the hymn. This Ash Wednesday, I repeat this refrain. I see it, I feel it, I hope for it. I pray that my mother had peace as she arose and went to Jesus. I pray with all my heart that Jesus was there to embrace her in his arms.
I am angry and bitter and tired and broken, but I am hopeful that my mother is being held in love by someone, somewhere, now that I can no longer hold her in mine.
From dust you came and to dust you shall return.
This Ash Wednesday, I will reflect on the sin that moves me away from good and love. I will reflect on the brokenness in my life that has nothing to do with my own sin but are simply cracks from life being really damn hard. I will try to reconcile with a Jesus who holds out his arms to me and I will try to journey alongside of him.
I will remain broken, always. Even Jesus cannot fix the cracks, the imperfections that blemish my soul. But Jesus can offer me something that no one else can. Good that is unblemished, love that is unconditional, and hope that is for the broken.
Edited Version Published on Baptist News Global