As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Today is Ash Wednesday.
It’s the day millions of Christians across the world begin a 40 day season of preparation for Easter. Or as some of the students in my youth group will tell you, it’s the day we go to church and get dirt rubbed on our faces.
I love any good church service, but I think Ash Wednesday may be one of my favorites. The ritual of burning the palm leaves from the previous Easter and using their ashes to make a cross on believers’ foreheads is wonderful, but I like what happens afterwards even more.
For some reason, I’ve had the habit of going to the grocery store after church on Ash Wednesday for the past several years. It’s an unintentional tradition, but I would encourage you to try it out this year. If you do, you will be witness to a strange and wonderful phenomenon, at least if you’re in an area like mine.
The grocery store that was once a crowded mass of strangers suddenly takes on the feel of a family gathering, if only for a fleeting moment, as people with ashes on their foreheads walk past each other, smile, and say hello.
There’s no talk about denominations or doctrinal differences or anything of the sort. Instead, those dirty smudges remind us of our common bonds: we are all made from the same ashes and we all worship the same Lord. In that briefest of moments we are one people undivided by theological tradition.
So it got me thinking, what if in addition to all of the personal perpetration that has come to define the Lenten season, we also took this unique moment of unity to seek out opportunities to work together, cross denominatinoal boundaries, and try to live as if we are actually one Body?
What would happen?
Maybe there would be less infighting in the family of God and more love. Maybe people of different traditions would start looking for opportunities to work together, instead of chances to tear one another down. Maybe there would no longer be a need for 8 churches on 1 block. Maybe if we all began to live as if the kingdom of God had begun to dawn, the rest of the world would flock to our doors instead of running the opposite direction. Maybe if we remembered that unity doesn’t require conformity, we could actually be the Church.
Obviously, the fracturing of the Church would not change over night, but what if we began to take advantage of these unifying moments in the life of the Church? What if in these moments where we’re already doing the same things, saying the same things, acting the same way we allowed those things to begin to bridge the theological gaps that divide us? What if something as simple as a dirty forehead ceased to be a mere decoration and instead became a means of grace through which we finally rediscover the ability to be one Body?
Grace and peace,