Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Today is Ash Wednesday.
Christians across the globe are gathering together to hear words that the church has heard for centuries: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Those are the words I intoned this morning as I marked the gathered body with ashes, and they will be the words I will use tonight. And, God willing, they will be the words I use every Ash Wednesday until the end.
But what happens after the church leaves the church with those ashen crosses on their foreheads is a strange and bewildering thing.
I, for one, left church this morning and then drove my son to his Preschool. Like most mornings we patiently waited outside the door of his classroom, only this time 3 of his classmates approached me and, independently of one another, made comments about the smudge on my forehead while their parents tried to pull them away.
On other Ash Wednesdays I have been approached in grocery stores and on street corners by inquisitive people as to what in the world happened to my head.
But there’s a good case to be made that before we leave the church with our ashen crosses, we should wash them off.
Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Of course we can leave the ashes on our heads until they naturally fade away, but if we keep them just so we can be seen by others for our faithfulness, then we have failed to take the words of Jesus seriously.
My fried Teer Hardy puts it this way, “Wash your ash today. Let us not allow the world see our fasting as an attempt for pious righteousness but rather let our fasting be a witness to the judgement that was due to us but because of Christ’s sacrificial life we receive the justification we do not deserve.”
Ash Wednesday, and Lent for that matter, is a unique time in the life of the church when, rather than focusing outwardly, we are encouraged to look inward, to consider the condition of our condition, and to recognize our absolute dependence on the grace of Jesus Christ.
So get your ash in church, and leave it there.
The rest is up to Jesus.