Ashes & Dust: Why I Receive Ashes Today

And to the man [God] said . . . “Cursed is the ground in its separation of you. In pain you will eat from it all the days of your life; Thorns and thistles shall come out towards you and you will eat plants of the field. In sweat of your nose you will eat bread until you return to the ground.
Remember, apart from us you took. Therefore, you are dust and to dust you will return” – Genesis 3:17-19

 

Dust. Ash. It’s such gritty, grimy gunk. It gets stuck under your nails, it stains your clothes. When the grass withers, all that is left is dust. When the fire stops burning all that remains is ash. But today – I receive this gritty, grimy gunk and I put it on my forehead – where all the world will see it.

Ashes on my forehead and dust in my veins.

See, the secret of the Garden of Eden, the one we miss in our cookie-cutter Sunday school class, is the placement of the trees. The tree of life may be at the center of the garden, the place where all life comes forth. But what about the other tree? Where did it come from? Well, if you talk to a well-studied Rabbi (or the early fathers of our faith) you might be surprised to know that the other tree grew outside the garden (I know, it’s easily missed); in the garden of our hearts. And so we ate apart from God. We took from a fruit that grew within us, and not within God’s life-garden.

And so, God reminded Adam – reminds us – that are hearts are nothing more than dust. Our minds are nothing more than dust. Our souls are nothing more than dust. Our blood is nothing more than dust. And to the dust, we will return.

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Epiphany: My Search for My King

This post is going to be different. I’m not the most transparent person. Maybe it’s a personality trait (INFJ all the way), or maybe I just didn’t develop in this area as I should have. Whatever the reason, writing down my thoughts, feelings, and reflections seems to be the most raw version of me. Here, in black ink, and white pages, the inner abstract becomes an external concrete. And it’s that what every scribe wants?

Therefore, this post is going to be different. I’m not going to assume some voice, or analyze some biblical passage. Instead, I will simply offer me on this Epiphany.

For those of you who don’t know – Epiphany is the day the church celebrates the arrival of the Magi to a two-year-old Jesus. The Christmas season which is 12 days long (or 14 depending on your tradition) is ended. While we have awaited something during Advent, then celebrated a child’s birth in Christmastide, it isn’t until this day that we recognize, as the church, who He really is. Before today, he was the “with us God”. But today, we know who he is. He is our King. He is the Messiah. He is our teacher. He is our prophet. He is our priest. He is our groom. And we are his disciples, his bride. He is coming to save, redeem, make-right, and complete the tear within the world: the tears within our lives.

Today, we collectively have an Epiphany.

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Advent with King Herod: Peace

A note on the following:

First, this post is meant to be performed, therefore, the written form is missing an important element: Herod’s paranoia. When I perform this, the “craziness” starts to come out about half-way through and builds and builds until the end. So when reading, remember that there is a very unstable voice behind the words. Herod was brilliant – but he died  a very sick man.

Second, everything written is meant to be historically accurate. But for the purposes of simplicity, I wrote this with the omission of the Hasmonean Dynasty. Since only people who have studied Second Temple Judaism would be aware of it’s existence and political influence. Therefore, every time you see and asterisk*, know that I am referencing the Davidic monarchy instead of the recent Hasmonean one. 

Advent with King Herod: Peace

History has not been kind to me. And you, you people here in the pews are the ones who turned me into a villain. You have turned me into an old, fat King who gave orders to kill your favored child, the alleged King of the Jews. I have to scoff at that. There is no such thing as a King of the Jews, nor will there ever be! You call him a king? I’m not even a King, yet your silly Holy Book calls me one. So let me set the record straight. Maybe you care to hear my side of the story. My name is “King” Herod, and what I did – I did for peace.

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Advent with Mary: Joy

From the time I was old enough to help out my mother, my mom had a favored topic of conversation: pregnancy. She had trouble conceiving – so I grew up hearing about how I was her miracle child. I was conceived late in her life. And as I grew up, she told me how she related to the matriarchs of old. She told me she was like Sarah, who wanted a child. But it wasn’t until Sarah accepted the child God wanted that she bore one. She told me she was like Hannah, who wanted a child so bad that she was accused of being drunk as she prayed for a son. So my mother, being a godly woman, prayed that same prayer Hannah prayed. She asked for a child that was within God’s plan. Not for one that she wanted. I was the result and my name is Mary.

Not only did I grow up hearing about my mother’s barrenness – but I also heard about it from my cousin Elizabeth who we visited every year after the barley harvest. Although Elizabeth is my cousin, she is my mother’s age – the child of my mother’s oldest sister. And Elizabeth and my mother held something in common: they simply struggled to conceive.

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Advent with Joseph: Love

Out of all the people in our Holy Book, I think I might be one of the most mysterious. People debate about me all the time. Some say that I was young, in my early twenties, when I decided to marry. After all, that is when the average man got married in my day. Then others say that I was older when I married her, that it was my second marriage, that I already had a few kids by my first wife who died young.

Some say I was a well-learned man, that I had a formal education, that I taught my son the Law. Then others claim that I didn’t know much at all, at least in book smarts. The truth is, you don’t read much about me in scripture at all. My name is Joseph, the carpenter. And I am the earthly father of Jesus Christ.

If you came here today seeking the details of my life, I must confess, you will be disappointed. But if you came to hear to listen to my story – and the struggle I’ve been in – then maybe you won’t be disappointed at all.

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Advent with Gabriel: Hope

This is intended to be performed as a monologue for the first week of Advent:

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you” – no that doesn’t sound right. “Greetings.” Clears throat. “Greetings. Behold, you will conceive and bear a son” I’ve delivered a lot of messages in my lifetime. More than you can imagine – most of them have never been recorded, not even in your holy text. But this message, this new message I’ve been practicing is confounding even for me: the ever-watchful Gabriel, one of the 7 archangels of heaven.

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The Story of Forty: The Lent You Haven’t Heard

Every year, I am constantly thrown off by Lent. We say that it lasts 40 days, but there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. So why do we say forty? I could go into this boring history: I could tell you how the lunar and solar calendar don’t get along, which resulted in an annual 46 day problem. I could tell  you that some traditions don’t count Holy Week as  being a part of Lent while others don’t count Sundays. But in the end, that conversation tells us very little about the theology behind Lent. So instead, I am going to tell you a different story. I am going to tell you about the Story of Forty.

The Story of Forty

When humanity had corrupted the earth, when they no longer recognized who they were created to be, it was time for God to demonstrate Who He was. So he unleashed the waters of Chaos, waters that He once barred in Creation. So once again, God let Chaos reign. So Chaos rained for Forty days.

For Forty days and Forty nights the world was submerged.  And a Biblical theme was born. Why Forty? Why not some other number? Is there a reason for this reoccurring number? Answer to that question is, “Yes”.  Numbers are used for more than counting in Hebrew literature. They typically represent an idea. So before we can understand Forty, we must first look at the two numbers that comprise it.
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Day of Atonement: Thoughts After Ash Wednesday

 This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.– Leviticus 16:34
“Remember that you are dust, and to the dust you will return” – Anglican Liturgy

 

Jerusalem, 50 BC:

Baruch felt a lump rise in his throat as he approached the walls of the Temple Court in Jerusalem. His small flock of goats had traveled with him from Bethlehem to Jerusalem over the last few days, and sadly, he knew the lives of four of them were coming to an end.

Baruch was no stranger to the death of his animals. As a shepherd among the priestly order, he was used to making the five mile trip to Jerusalem; used to handing the best of his goats over to the Levites. But today was a personal first; today he would be handing over the four best of his flock for a very specific purpose.

So it was with a heavy heart that Baruch entered the temple courts as his flock was picked over.  While four of the unblemished animals were taken, he looked over and saw a large bull being brought through the southern temple door, a doorway that was reserved only for the transportation of animals to sacrifice.

Baruch felt out of place on this dawn morning. Normally, the temple would be rowdy with sound. Horns would be blown to welcome the new day, coins could be heard rattling as they fell into clay pots, the hooting of hundreds of pigeons would resound, teachers would yell across the courtyard while observant women chanted from the upper walls. But not on this dawning day.

Today, the court and the temple stood silent.

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