The Pastor's Buzz

Pastor Buzz Trexler's blog for God's people in The Meadow.

My Photo
Name: Buzz Trexler
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Journalist for 29 years; married to Donna for 28 years; parent of David, 27, and Elizabeth, 24; pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa since 2002.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ashes and ink: The marks of commitment

Whatever you think of the war in Iraq, one could not help but experience a touch of emotion when those who voted braved the war-torn streets of Iraq with ink-stained fingers a little less than two weeks ago.

Those who cast ballots dipped their fingers in bottles of indeliable ink as an indicator to show they had voted. That was a security measure to ensure that no one voted twice; however, it also marked them for possible retaliation by insurgents.

What a mighty display of solidarity ... and courage! They were marked by the ink ... possibly for death.

Many people in this nation and elsewhere dipped their fingers in ink as a sign of solidarity with the Iraqi people. A noble gesture of support, for sure, but it's not the same. One U.S. observer in Iraq on election day asked a poll worker if he could dip his finger in the ink well, to which she replied, "You may not! You are not an Iraqi!"

Only Iraqis could carry the mark.

I could not help but draw the parallel to Ash Wednesday.

The tradition of the early Church was to use the 40-day season before the celebration of Easter as a time of spiritual preparation, with particular attention being given to preparing converts for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who had separated themselves from the community of faith because of serious sin were given the opportunity to be reconciled through penitence and forgiveness. They were thus restored to the community of faith. It was through the preparation and restoration that the community was reminded of the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ and our own need for renewal.

Therefore, you could say that the imposition of the ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday -- the official start of Lent -- is a decidedly Christian act … an act that marks you as a believer.

In Blount County, those marked with ashes may get some strange looks from the clerk at Wal-Mart … and you may find yourself embarrassed.

But consider the story of Tsehay Tolessa, an Ethiopian Christian in the 1980s:

"They forced my hands under my knees and tied them there. Then they put a stick through these ropes and hung me upside down. They filled my mouth with dirty rags. I almost suffocated. They beat me, breaking my bones. Great pieces of skin hung from my body.

"Then they freed me from bonds and forced me to run with bleeding feet over a path with sharp stones.

"Next, they put me in a small cell containing 62 people. There was only room to stand. Stand on what? On bleeding feet, on broken bones. The cell was completely dark and there was no air. Don’t ask how prisoners fulfilled their bodily needs. There was only one hole serving as a toilet, but no one could get to it.

"All had to stand pressed against each other to give a few the opportunity to sleep a bit lying on one side. Because of the limited space, no turning was possible."

Her cuts bled, but there was no medicine. Tsehay could not even hold a cup, so others had to help her drink.

Tsehay Tolessa was tortured by the Ethiopian Communists for her faith in Jesus Christ. She stayed in that cell for over a year, spending a total of 10 years in jail. As a result of spending such a long time in darkness, she has not regained full vision.

As they tortured her, the Ethiopian Communists mocked: "Where is your loving Jesus?"

But Tsehay only pitied the blindness of her torturers. She knew that her Lord was always with her, alive in her heart. "Jesus was there," she said, "in the midst of human waste, in the humiliation, in the blood and stench. He is more than a King ruling in heaven, a Bridegroom. He is the One tortured in prison." 1

When we draw near this evening to carry the sign of the cross, it is not casting our alms before man. It is a sign of humility ... of repentance ... of solidarity. It is the mark of a believer ... and it, too, marks us for death -- not death by homicide on the streets of Iraq, but an act where we die to self.

Vintage faith carries a price. It's no easy believism. Still, it is a faith filled with sacrifice and joy.

In the liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we are all invited, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent:

By self-examination and repentance;

By prayer, fasting and self-denial;

And by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.

1"Jesus Freaks," dc Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs, 1999 Albury Publishing; pp167-168