I ushered in the season of Lent from a unique vantage point today.
Holding a small dish filled with a mixture of last year’s celebratory palm branches and oil, I finger-painted ashy crosses on the bared foreheads of broken people for whom Jesus came to die.
In church-language, what I did is known as imposition of the ashes.
Imposition. What a word!
To force an unfair or unwelcome demand or burden on another.
To bother, strain, hassle, inflict.
An unreasonable situation that you are expected to accept.
As I imposed the oily mark of the cross on members of my faith family, it registered deeply that the life Jesus calls us into sometimes feels like an imposition. To daily take up my own cross and follow my Savior’s lead can be a bother – when what I feel like doing isn’t cross-related at all.
Bearing the mark of the cross on my life inflicts hardship at times, which if I’m honest, can seem very much like an unreasonable request.
The cross demands my life in ways I’m not always eager to give, which can be a real burden – especially when my own agenda must be set aside in order to hoist it up on my tired shoulders – yet again.
I wrestle with the part of me that prefers to be in charge when it comes to gracefully accepting the discomfort and certain pain connected to this instrument of death. I’d actually prefer to wear a bejeweled version around my neck and smile back at you instead of imposing its shape on your forehead, too.
But then I remember…
These ashes of death on my forehead today have been redeemed by the One who willingly took the mark of my sin – talk about an imposition! – and buried it all in the grave. His cross-life gave way to a cross-death so that my dust-&-ash existence might be resurrected in His victory over every lie that says my destiny, like my history, is nothing but dirt.
So, I will shoulder my awkward, bulky cross again tomorrow because God believes in me, Jesus Himself is calling me, and His Presence gives me the strength to take one more step in His direction…
Ashes and all.