The Worst Thing About Ash Wednesday

It’s always the sermon.

I don’t know what it is with priests, but they just don’t get it. Without a laughtrack or a commentator or a jumbotron we only have a four-minute attention span, and they keep insisting on giving us 10-12 minutes, even on Ash Wednesday at 5 PM when people tired and thinking about supper and the kids are getting cranky.

Yes, I did the 5PM service today. Just a Service of the Word, not a mass, and it was packed. And the priest – a wonderful, holy man, extremely intelligent and scholarly, and a really great confessor – had four minutes before we were dead-eyed and slack-jawed. I think he got us there in three minutes, flat.

This is the sermon I told myself, when I could no longer concentrate on Father’s earnest work:

“You people remember the movie Moonstruck? It’s the story about an Italian family in Brooklyn, a mother named Rose, a father named Cosmo, and their daughter…Cher.

There’s a part where the mother, Rose, says to the father, ‘Cosmo, I just want you to know that no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everyone else!’

And so is everyone in this church. No matter how well you think you’re doing, you’re screwing up, and I don’t need to tell you where you’re screwing up because you KNOW where you’re screwing up.

There’s another scene in Moonstruck, where Rose says to her daughter…Cher…’your life is goin’ down the toilet!’

So is yours. You only have the one life in which to make the right choices and do the right thing, and no matter how well you think you’re taking care of it, you’re falling short, and I don’t have to tell you where you’re falling short, becaue you KNOW where you’re falling short.

So, you come here, you get ashes. We’re glad. We like seeing you here and wish you would come more. But while you’re getting the ashes, think about it for a few minutes, okay? About why you came here?

Ashes on the forehead. Getting smudged. It’s a primitive tribal thing – it marks us as belonging to the Tribe of Christ. It harkens back to ancient penitential practices – it is also an outward sign of all we will become, whether we are kings or kooks: ashes.

What are you going to do between the time you get these ashes smudged on your forehead, and you actually become them?

There is another scene in Moonstruck, where Cher goes to confession and tells the priest she has slept with her fiance’s brother. The priest says, “that’s a pretty big sin!” Cher winces and says, “I know.”

“Think about your life,” the priest begs, gesturing with his hands.

Think about your life. Get moving on the things you need to fix. You feed your family, you feed yourself, don’t forget to feed your spirit. Consider going to confession yourself; chances are you have less to confess than Cher!

We are Baptised. We belong to Christ. The ashes say that. If we are doing this Christian thing right, it should also say that we are dead to the world but alive in Christ – or that were at least trying – that we are ghosts, wandering these plains until we rest in Christ in Eternity. We are Dead Men Walking.

But that’s another movie.”

Vanderleun has a much more elegant sermon!

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