Ash Wednesday Year A

Lent is a journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem, the city of his longing, the city of his dying, the city of his new birth. Lent looks to Easter. Whatever we do in Lent we do to get to that place of rebirth. We are heading for Easter and new life, and hope fulfilled, and dreams no more denied.
But Easter was a surprise to Jesus and we must let it be a surprise to us. From here to Holy Week it’s downhill all the way. This is the season of God’s failure. For forty days we walk with God in the shadow of the valley of death. Jesus comes with a word of life and comfort for the people but it is a word hard to hear and it echoes around but doesn’t find a home. It is such an unpopular message that it gets him killed in the worst way—humiliated, betrayed, alone, and abandoned. Jesus failed.
Why was his word of peace and life and comfort so hard to hear? Why was John the Baptist so much more popular with his words of doom and death? Why?
I think because we like to hang on to whatever little control we have. Half the people heard John preach and thought him a fool and went away untouched in their foolish self-confidence. The other half felt his words convict them of their faults, the failings, and gave them a way to take control of their own salvation.
But Jesus came without condemnation. He didn’t point the finger at sinners: he sat down to dinner with them. He didn’t wait for the traitor to change: he made him a friend. He didn’t stare down the terrorist: he walked along the road with her.
The price for his friendship wasn’t change or conversion or getting it right. There was no price. Friendship with Jesus came free … and still does. And that scared the living daylights out of so many people who’s own importance was built on what they had achieved, or where they’d been born, or who they had bought, or what they’d done to ensure their own salvation. And eventually they killed him.
Today we mark ourselves with ash. And not out of penance. It is a badge of friendship. Friendship with Jesus. And we wear it with a crazy sort of pride because we know we haven’t earned it. We are sinners, traitors, terrorists, and worse … but Jesus hasn’t asked us to change. He has only asked that we be his friends and walk his way with him.
And this Lent, let us do that; let’s walk with him so that when his word falls on deaf ears he might not go uncomforted; let’s stay with him so that at the end he will not be alone.