Face. F-A-C-E. A four letter word with at least that many meanings and connotations. As a noun, the word “face” represents our identifying mark. Like snowflakes or stripes on a zebra, no two faces are alike. Your face is uniquely and singularly you! Now, there may be things about your face that we don’t like and wish we could change or cover up. But our face bears the imprint of God, who created each of us with a loving touch and delights in our individuality.
As a plural noun – as in faces – we are meant to think of crowds. Faces in the crowd. Faces make up the crowd. Faces shows that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Each of us being one part of many, sharing a common humanity with all the others. Faces in the crowd can sometimes get lost in the crowd, like a stadium full of spectators at a sporting event. The sea of humanity is so large that it becomes easy to lose the individuality of any one, particular face.
As a verb, “face” refers to our posture; how and in which direction we are standing. It means to look at; to see; to gaze upon – as when we face the mirror and see our reflection in it. But the verb “face” can also mean to confront; to call things for what they are; not to deny the truth but to admit and accept it, no matter how difficult that might be.
The season of Lent is about the word “face.” It’s about facing the cross – seeing and gazing upon the sacrifice of Christ; his death and resurrection. It’s about confronting our own sin – for which Jesus died to save us. Sin is about “missing the mark” of perfection; failing to adequately live by God’s Word and will. The vast majority of sins are committed not because we mean to, but rather in spite of the fact that we don’t. We certainly don’t try to miss the mark, but even in spite of our best efforts, we fall short of the glory of God.
Lent is about confronting that reality; accepting that we are part of a crowd – a common humanity, whose nature it is to do the very thing we shouldn’t do and to fail to do the very thing we should. Lent is about not hiding our face in the crowd and hoping we don’t have to admit this truth. Rather it is about accepting the responsibility that we all have – as unique individuals – to examine ourselves and admit our need for Christ; his forgiveness; his grace. No one can do that work for us, but us. And Lent is God’s invitation to accept this important and saving work.
Which is why we wear ashes on our faces on Ash Wednesday, which signals the beginning of Lent. To remind us of our brokenness; our need for Christ; and our willingness to keep facing the cross throughout our life of faith. For it is “In the cross, in the cross, that our individual souls will find their ultimate rest.”
Blessings – Michael