When I was getting dressed this morning I started to pull out a pair of subtly checked (black and gray) socks to wear and then the question hit me – can you wear checked socks on Ash Wednesday or should they be all black? When you are a liturgical pastor who wears a black clerical everyday, the choice of socks is about the only opportunity you have to express any clothing style. (I do have some brown pants, some two-toned brown and black shoes and God forbid, even a gray clerical that I don about once a month, not all at the same time though because even a simpleton from Iowa knows that brown and grey don’t go together.)
I decided to live boldly in my Christian freedom and wear the subtly checked socks. I took Christian freedom to new heights a few hours later when I spotted half of a day old paczki in the staff work room. (A paczcki – pronounced ‘punchkey’ – is a Polish bismark with extra rich jellies and creams inside eaten on Fat Tuesday.) I devoured it! All of this I did even though I am a simple Waltherian who grew up in rural Iowa District West. (Had I grown up in Iowa East, which is becoming more liturgical by the day – I may not be facing such ashen anxiety and pressing issues of Christian freedom.)
I figured all these bold acts of freedom were acceptable because after all, I will get ashed twice today. The first time was earlier this morning at our AM service and the second will be at this evening’s service. I have grown accustomed to being ashed, if you actually can grow accustomed to being reminded that dust you are and to dust you shall return. It was not easy at first though. I did not even know that Lutherans used ashes on Ash Wednesday until I got my call here to the Chicago suburbs nearly twenty years ago. (In Iowa District West we just called it “Ash Wednesday.” We couldn’t imagine that it might actually involve real ashes on real foreheads.)
I am now a thorough-going liturgy guy. We even encourage people to give something up for Lent. It is a good practice and good spiritual discipline if done with the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. In today’s sermon however, I encouraged people to add something for Lent. I preached on the Ash Wednesday epistle (II Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10) and after reading the list of attacks that St. Paul endured in his spiritual warfare with the devil (afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger, dishonor, slander, dying, sorrow and poverty) it made the notion of giving up my favorite TV show for Lent seem a little silly so I invited people to not only give something up but also to add something in Lent, something from Paul’s other list in this text: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness or genuine love.
It has taken a while for this simple Waltherian from Iowa West to know and practice the liturgy and I still have a long ways to go but I will travel that path willingly and enjoying the fuller use of my eyes, ears and all my senses (we are getting closer to using incense but are not quite there yet) in the Divine Service.
I’m thinking that paczki needs a little coffee to keep it company. I think I’ll quit this post while I am behind. Can you use cream in your coffee on Ash Wednesday?