Traditionally the ashes used at Ash Wednesday gatherings come from the palm branches from the previous year’s palm Sunday. It’s a unique, dramatic reminder that the “triumphs of the past are consumed by the grief of the present.”*
No matter how great our “past triumphs”, when faced with grief, difficulty, our own limitations we always find ourselves in need of God here and now. It didn’t matter how great Israel had been in the past, all the prophets we read speak of a fresh need for God’s mercy.
In other words, our “great accomplishments” really don’t end up being all that important.
I won a few awards when I was younger, I had a trophy shelf in my room, these pieces of wood and plastic were important to me…then. I’d arrange them shortest to tallest, oldest to newest, I’d categorize them by sport. Today they’re in a box in the garage. Most people don’t even keep their high school trophies because at some point they realize: they really don’t matter.
Some of these accomplishments make for good stories, but my kids don’t care if I was MVP of this team, it really doesn’t matter to my wife that I was most-improved of that team, God is almost certainly not impressed that I was captain of that team. In fact those who truly love me don’t care about most of my “accomplishments.” It’s not that the accomplishments don’t matter – it’s that they are not what matter most.
What really matters? What matters most?
To my kids, to my family, to my church, to my real friends, to God, it’s who I am. It’s what kind of husband I am, who I am as a dad. What matters most is who Jesus has created me to be and how whole-heartedly I’m becoming that person.
In receiving ashes on our foreheads at the beginning of Lent, we’re saying this: All my accomplishments – or my lack of accomplishments – are really ashes in comparison to being marked by the cross of Christ.
What really matters is being His. What matters most is being marked and shaped by his love and his mission to love others.
*this is a quote from Dr. David McDonald’s new book on Lent