The dynamic of our lives as a people baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is a remarkable thing to be done as well as to be said. It is not just a thing we assert. Yes, we do recite the Nicene Creed's version of that claim and all that goes with it in that embellished trinitarian hedge.
But more importantly we DO the things that our mouths profess. Or more correctly, when we do those things in worship that our mouths profess in creeds and hymns -- in particular those things in worship like baptizing, breaking bread, sharing a cup, confessing, anointing, confirming, marrying, or ordaining -- we are rehearsing. We are doing within the confines of a community of faith those symbolic actions that we hope will take shape in our lives outside the walls on 338 Academy St.
About the rehearsing: Sunday worship is so much of what we do together, it has almost become an idol. Too many of us, myself included, will let Monday be free from those concerns and claims we have just asserted and heard and those actions we have just practiced less than 24 hours prior as if NOT doing them is our reward for having done them symbolically on Sunday.
So the best we can claim about our Sunday gathering is that it is a rehearsal for the rest of our lives. In worship we are acting out in a hopeful pattern of entrance, offertory, silence, consecration, and dismissal our desire to join in brokenness and death the one who was raised and gloriously holds the promise of our resurrection to life, eternally.
The Ash Wednesday service is also a rehearsal. We are doing something symbolic in kneeling to confess and while in that descent marking our bodies with a reminder of who we really are.
"Remember that you are dust," we say and the words perform through us. And so you will hear it said, we "do" ashes. Of all the symbolic actions done in our liturgies nothing challenges us like the imposition of ashes.
The challenge really comes later when we go out of the church's doors with a cross smudged on our foreheads and we no longer have the comfort of what we are doing being only a rehearsal. I remember how awkward it felt to watch Stephen Colbert on TV, his forehead well marked.
It is not enough to dismiss the gospel for the day as ironic when it includes Jesus' command to us to wash our disfigured faces so as not to make a show of our piety. We must admit that in order for what we say to be substantiated by what we do shows of piety or telling people we went to church or even telling them that we will pray for them are not enough.
We all know this already. How many times in your own life have you heard someone you love say, "'I'm sorry' is not enough"?
By extension Lent is also a rehearsal. 40 days of practice. 40 days of holding together our words and our actions. 40 days of holding together what we do in church and what we do in the world. 40 days of rehearsing for a life of confession and humility and hope. 40 days of remembering that we are the dust for whom He became all dust.