Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Miercoles de Ceniza // Ash Wednesday

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Acuérdate de que eres polvo y al povlo has de volver.

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We woke up early this morning, hoping to make it to 8am mass at the cathedral downtown before our respective workdays began. We weren't really sure what to expect; I had checked the day before for special Lenten or Ash Wednesday services, but there was nothing, just the usual information about hourly daily masses.

It's been one of my greatest frustrations here, not really having a church home and not really being able to figure out what is going on in the churches we visit. I bought a "misal," which is kind of sort of a little like a hymnal in that it has the basic liturgy in it. And the liturgy is quite similar to traditional Lutheran liturgies, so that's not really a great problem. But in the churches we've been to here, there isn't any congregational singing, no hymns or songs; the congregation just sits and stands and kneels and listens to other people talk and sing. I do enjoy hearing the appointed Bible texts read, and it's always exciting when I recognize the story even though it's in Spanish. But then it comes time for communion, and I always feel a bit (or a lot) forlorn. At least half of the people in the pews don't take communion anyway, so we don't look all that strange staying in our seats, but if I could, man, I'd be up there in a heartbeat. I miss the Meal.

(Some of you have asked me if I'm going to become Catholic as a result of our time in Mexico. The answer is still no, for many and deep reasons. But the only time it tempts me is when I long to receive the Sacraments. I am human - I long to belong.)

So, even though I really, really wanted to go to Ash Wednesday mass in the morning, I was starting to feel a little bitter as we approached the cathedral. At that moment I really missed St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Bloomington, Indiana, where Chris and I first started going to church together. I missed Reformation Lutheran Church in the Roseland neighborhood in Chicago, where I worked last year. I even missed Augustana Lutheran Church in Hyde Park, where we often went for the sole reason that it was a block away from our apartment. How strange to miss church in a land of churches!

(Above: Inside the Templo Expiatorio, my favorite church building in Guadalajara.)

And that, my dear friends, is why it was so earth-shakingly powerful to receive the imposition of ashes this morning. We walked into the cathedral to find a line already formed leading to the altar. The priest was marking the sign of the cross on foreheads already, much to our surprise, and so we immediately got in line with the rest of the faithful. The priest didn't ask me if I was Catholic. He didn't ask me if I spoke Spanish. He just put his thumb on my forehead and marked the sign of the cross with black ash, saying what I think were the Spanish words at the top of this post: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Later someone noticed my ashes and asked me if I was Catholic. "No," I said, "I'm Lutheran," which always results in a puzzled look, so I explain in my limited Spanish that it's a type of Christian. "The same God," I always say. But today I added, "and the same cross."

I still miss the Meal. But somehow this morning, through a very simple act, I realized that Christ has followed me all the way to Mexico, planting his cross right into my forehead. I cannot escape that cross, no matter how far I travel, no matter how many Sundays pass without a sacrament. Forgive me Lord. I had forgotten.

For more on how Miercoles de Ceniza looks around the world, check out these pictures.

4 comments:

John said...

The world is so strange...there you are hungering for the Eucharist in Mexico, and here I am offering Communion to a Catholic resident at an ALF in Florida and she refuses it...at least you experienced the wonderful lenten symbol of ashes - she refused them too.

From Michigan with Love said...

Dude...just go take communion...
If they ask just bable some English nonsense and they'll think you need it that much more! :-) Hedel always said he tries cause theologicaly we have it worked out in our heads that it is ok. I know what you mean about the ashes though. I preached on that same cross last night and got to say those words with the ash on these folks with whom I have grown to know and care for....very powerful! I said them in English though!

Matt Keadle said...

Thanks for the comments, both of you. The world is strange, indeed. Wonderful, but strange.

Adam, I have the same problem in the Missouri-Synod church I grew up. Technically as a member of the ELCA I'm not supposed to receive it there. But my mom thinks that's silly, because I was confirmed there. I imagine there are individual Catholic priests, too, who would invite me to receive it. I've heard Hendel's position, and I'm sympathetic. But I guess I still hold that I should respect the policy of the church that I'm a guest in. And, when I do respect that by not taking part, my idea is that I'm also bearing witness to the continued brokenness within the Christian church, rather than pretending it's not there.

Having said that - I may be wrong! I'll keep thinking it over, especially when smart people like you and Hendel tell me to. :)

From Michigan with Love said...

Mateo,
Thanks for the kind, if not untrue, words about being smart. I agree that the Christian church is broken...probably always will be...but the church does not institute the Eucharist for us, Jesus Christ did when he said take and eat, take and drink, this is ME for YOU. I understand and God knows I respect and love you for your respect as a guest in someone’s church, but I would offer that you are not disrespectful for wanting or longing for what is a most precious gift given to you by an awesome God. Just like this gift has nothing to do with your worth in receiving it, it also does not matter the body (church or human) administering it to you. (of course to a point...you don't take it from a street vendor, but stay with me!) Yes it's a Catholic Church. Yes you're not 'suppose to' by doctrine take communion unless Catholic, but they are faithful people, faithful administering a live giving gift. Yes the church is broken, but wouldn't coming together at the table be a step toward healing it?! A witness to the power of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that stretches across the very boundaries that you are experiencing this year!?
I enjoy engaging with and realize that the void in my life with you away is great, and real. I miss you and love you and respect you so much!
I can't imagine what it must feel like to be in some of these situations and I would probably sit with you and not take communion as well. But I wouldn't like it! :-)
Peace in your move my friend, see you soon! Thank God!!!