T.S Eliot is probably best known for the poems that brought about the Broadway Musical “Cats”. His poetry covers a wide array of subjects and he even wrote a poem called “Ash Wednesday”. It is dense stuff and a wonderful read and being of the belief that poetry is poetry because it speaks to different people in different ways at different times, I will not try and explain what it means. What spoke to me was this line.
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent and Lent is the time when we meditate upon Christ’s great sacrifice for us and our salvation. It is meant to turn our eyes upon Jesus and we are so steeped in ourselves that we even turn this time into a discussion about us. We focus on the Law and our sins for the purpose of helping us focus on the Cross where our sins were forgiven and the power of those sins destroyed because the Son of God died for us.
Two reactions to Lent and Ash Wednesday are out there now. One is forgetfulness. Many folks that I talked to this week did not even know that today is Ash Wednesday. That is stunning to me, but then I have to remember that I live in a world were many of our calendars do not mark off the Holy Days. If you come to church once a month it is tough to remember what was listed in the bulletin as “upcoming events”.
The other idea is to turn this into a season all about us. What are we giving up? What are we reading? How goes our spiritual journey? Are we fasting? I even read a devotion where the writer was encouraging the preachers in this season to focus attention upon themselves and their servant hood as a way to get a handle on the “spirituality of the season”.
So stunned were the ancients at either the grace or the majesty of God that they acknowledged their nothingness by bowing down in ashes. We get the ashes placed on our forehead, hear the words “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” and demand that God notice the fact that we try. We use the very sign of our own helplessness to remind God that he is our self help guru and that together everyday we can get better and better. We use our sins, (if the truth be told we only consider them mistakes) as sign posts of progress rather than as something to turn from and forget. Like the child whining in punishment that he should be given credit that in the playing with matches he only melted the siding off the back of the garage rather than burning the house down. This same child will someday throw a baseball through a window and then say “but at least I wasn’t playing with matches”. We will use the sin that so easily clings and trips us to mark progress! These are matters that we too much discuss and too much explain.
When God forgives he casts our sins into the depths of the sea and remembers them no more. My response should be like Paul, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.…Philippians 3. My whole life is to be repentance and a naked trust in the mercy of God. Lent is a time to focus on Christ and the cross. Remembering I am dust is one thing. Focusing on what Christ has done to save this dust ball is another.