Updated: Mar 5, 2020
"To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory" (Isaiah 61:3).
Another Lent season is upon us. Lent, from the word meaning "lengthening of days," not only refers to the coming of spring, but also ushers in one of the holiest seasons of the Christian calendar. The 40 day journey of reflection, repentance, sacrifice, and suffering (because if what we gave up was really a sacrifice, we will feel it) begins. For 40 days, we will trace the footsteps of Jesus through the mundane and miraculous, through the suspense of the Maundy Thursday betrayal and the praise of the Palm Sunday parade, through the horror of the Good Friday crucifixion and the sorrow of an Easter Saturday without Jesus, until finally, we arrive once again at the glory of the Resurrection, early Sunday morning, while it’s still dark.
But first, we start with Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Many of us will go to places of worship to have ministers place ashes on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. They will intone the ancient words of scripture: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”(Eccl. 3:20). Because the Lenten season reminds us of our mortality and the need to make amends with God and people, for no day is promised to us.
Ministers will not anoint us with oil or water, which are the symbols of the Holy Spirit. No, at the beginning of Lent, we are anointed with ashes. Ashes are the symbol of sadness, sorrow, and sin; the symbol of death, dying, and destruction; the symbol of fasting, frailty, and fragility; the symbol of repentance and reflection in hopes of an Easter Resurrection. We will receive the opposite of what Isaiah declares, because we will receive ashes and not beauty, symbols of mourning rather than the oil of gladness, and heaviness and not praise.
If the truth be told, some us don’t need ashes to remind us. We have our ashes with us at all times. We have ashes in our hearts, our minds, and our spirits. Another year has passed and it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Easter came and went last year and there are still some things that are dead in our lives. Some stuff didn’t get up with Jesus. Some stuff God said would live, but like Lazarus, it has been in the grave a long time. Like Mary and Martha, we know in the end, at the last judgment, when we all get to heaven, it’ll be alright. But right now—it’s just ashes. “Ashes, ashes” and like in the nursery rhyme, "we all [are about to] fall down."
And how can we tell if we are about to fall down? Perhaps by simply examining our attitudes and expectations about Lent. Some of us have not, are not, and will not participate in this liturgical season. We won’t give up anything. We won’t change anything. We won’t do anything different because we don’t expect anything different. We won’t commit to praying or fasting or any spiritual discipline because we fasted before, prayed before, and sacrificed before. We followed the rules, observed the rituals, adhered to the routine and nothing happened (at least not what we hoped for, prayed for, asked for, or begged for). I would bet that many of us have been disappointed because God has not always showed up when we called. And right now, some of us may be wondering if God really will be on time.
Because right now, it may not look like, feel like, or seem like God will turn your ashes into beauty.
Yet, I believe the Teacher in Ecclesiastes was right--
God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end (Eccl. 3:11)
We know God will give us beauty for ashes and make everything beautiful for its own time. However, we don’t always know how or when. The WORD just says that God has made everything beautiful for its own time. God has made everything beautiful in its kairos; God has made everything beautiful at
the right point;
in the proper time or season of action;
at exact critical time
That’s what kairos means. It’s not going to beautiful at any, some, my, or your time, but at the perfect, divinely appointed time, or absolute right time.
Right now, you may be standing at the boundaries of your breakthrough or the brink of your beauty. Don't give up. Just because it is has taken so long doesn't mean that change will never come or our labor has been in vain. Don't forget that your perceived delay does not necessarily mean that something is wrong. We forget that the duration of this human life is dominated by the ashes of ordinary time while we wait, work, hope, and expect the beauty of kairos or extraordinary time. We go through 4 weeks of Advent for 1 day of Christmas, but the Savior did show up. We go through 50 days of what the liturgical calendar calls “ordinary time” for 1 day of Pentecost, and Comforter did come.
And this year, we will go through 40 days of Lent for one day of Easter, because the Redeemer did rise.
And the way we make it through Advent, Ordinary time, and the Lenten seasons of life, the way we make it through the waiting times, silent times, and less than beautiful times is the same way you make it through a valley. We make it through the valley by walking. So this Lenten season, try again. Start again. Walk again. Walk by faith until you see the beauty God as in store.