As I was thinking about what I was going to say this morning a very simple anagram struck me. Ash me is an anagram of shame. It got me thinking about the way in which Lent, and Ash Wednesday in particular, can help us deal with shame.
It may be that we don’t feel shame. In one of his letters the apostle Paul writes to some new Christians that some people have got so used to sinning that their consciences have been seared, as if with a hot iron. When skin is burnt it loses it’s ability to feel, and it can be like that with our consciences. We get so used to doing things wrong, we forget that they even are wrong. Or we see the pictures on our screens of people suffering in war or as a result of climate change and we fail to engage, to accept our part in being responsible for what has happened to them, and the our part in relieving their suffering. Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for us to ask God to show us where we need to feel more shame and say “Ash Me”
Or, it may be that we do feel shame. I was reading a magazine article the other day about a church leader who had been addicted to pornography and going to strip shows. He was ashamed of what he was doing, or himself, but he couldn’t stop. And he was so ashamed that it got in the way of his relationship with God, and with his wife, who he was not being honest with. In the end, it wasn’t the shame that changed what he was doing, it was fear of what might happen to him if he continued, and hope that God would forgive him. One of the first steps of his journey back was one of repentance, of telling his wife what he had been doing, and being open about it. Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for us to come to God with the things we have done that we are ashamed of, to receive his forgiveness and freedom as in our shame we say, “Ash Me”
There is another reason we can feel shame. Some of us feel ashamed because of what other people have done to us, or have said to us. When people are cruel to us, abuse us, or bully us, we can end up feeling like it was our fault, that somehow those unkind things that they have said to us are true. Some of us look in the mirror and are ashamed of what we see, not because there is anything wrong with us, but because we have become convinced that there is some standard that we aren’t meeting. This shame can lock us into fear and self hatred. Jesus know what it was to be taunted and blamed, to be used and beaten up, to be stripped naked in front of a crowd and hung on a cross. He knows shame from the inside, and because he went through that, and came our the other side to new life, he has the power and authority to free us from all our shame, as we say, “Ash Me”.
So I invite you, as you come forward to receive ashes this morning, to open your hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit and be ready to receive also God’s conviction, God’s forgiveness, and God’s healing.