We All Fall Down

Ring around the rosie! A pocket full of posey. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!

Who remembers this little nursery rhyme? I have fond memories of watching my mother with my girls and my niece in a Disney hotel pool, holding hands and circling around while singing this. The finale was to all fall backwards into the water, which is a clever way to help young children learn how to hold their breath and immerse their heads under water without fear. Sneaky Grandmere!

I was startled to learn that some people attribute this cute little ditty to the plagues. Yes, the plagues. It is thought that ring around the rosie refers to the fever-flush that would appear on the face with the onset of sickness. Pocket full of posey refers to the medicinal herbs that were used to treat the victim. And of course ashes refers to the necessary burning of the bodies in an attempt to stem the course of the virus that was taking out entire villages.

That is quite a morbid take on a nursery rhyme, but it does lead us into a contemplation of our own mortality as we approach the season of Lent this Ash Wednesday. 

Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) prior to Easter when we are invited to slow down our frazzled pace and contemplate the meaning of life, death, and life beyond death. Lent is a remembrance of the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness that Christ endured on our behalf. We are invited to practice lenten disciplines such as prayer, bible study, meditation, self-examination, self-sacrifice, worship, and repentence. It is a season of preparation for the celebration of the resurrection on Easter morning. We are wise to approach it with a serious, soul-searching attitude. 

Psalm 51

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Truth in the inward being is a noble pursuit. God knows the secrets of our heart, but do we? Is there stuff buried so deep that we have forgotten about it? The strength of our denial can enable us to live as though certain actions and behaviors never took place. We go along on our merry way, thinking we have gotten away with it.

Lent says otherwise. It is an opportunity to confront our deepest sin without fear, because Jesus has the power to cleanse us, FREE US, and make us whole again.

You know that the thing you have buried is still there, waiting like a ticking time bomb to resurface and explode you into pieces. God says that is not necessary. You can give it over to him and let him diffuse it once and forever.

This Lent, let us fall down before God and ask him to teach us his wisdom in our secret hearts. 

It’s time to come clean.

Sound Sunset by Brant Honeycutt

The Ash Wednesday Storm

In 1962, a stretch of five hundred miles on the East Coast was battered by a horrific Nor’easter that resulted in 40 deaths and over $500 million dollars in damage (in today’s dollars). The storm resulted in the destruction of Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, Ocean City’s famous boardwalk, and thousands of coastal homes, roads, bridges, and businesses. This storm is known to this day as one of the ten worst storms of the 20th Century.

The storm arrived without warning on Ash Wednesday and lingered for three days. Here on the Outer Banks, heroism and sacrifice resulted in no loss of life. Brave men and women worked tirelessly for days rowing small skiffs around their neighborhoods to take people who had been stranded on their rooftops to safety. Over 60 buildings were destroyed and 1,300 structures were heavily damaged. The southern part of Hatteras Island was cut off as the storm created a new water inlet, and food had to be ferried to the residents until the inlet could be filled. Winds of 70 mph battered homes and businesses all along the Banks, and waves up to 30 feet were recorded.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and we recall the devastating effects of the clouds and thick darkness as we read Joel’s warning of a storm of a different type:

Joel 2 (Common English Bible)

Blow the horn in Zion;
    give a shout on my holy mountain!
Let all the people of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is near—
    a day of darkness and no light,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!

Joel is one of the twelve minor prophets in the Old Testament. He warned of the devastation that continued apostasy and disobedience to God’s law would bring to the people of Israel. The day of the Lord would be a day of reckoning, bringing a blackness of punishment for the corporate sin of the nation.

Like blackness spread out upon the mountains,
    a great and powerful army comes,
        unlike any that has ever come before them,
        or will come after them in centuries ahead

But much like the Ash Wednesday Storm, help is on the way. There is a Rescuer who will brave the high seas and strong winds to fetch you off the roof of your home. Will you be wise enough to get into his boat?

Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your hearts,
        with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow;
13 tear your hearts
        and not your clothing.
    Return to the Lord your God,
        for he is merciful and compassionate,
        very patient, full of faithful love,
            and ready to forgive.

Lent begins today, and of all the things that Lent is, it is truly a season of rescue from the storm. God invites us into the safe harbor of repentance and forgiveness, where we will find his mercy, compassion, patience, and love.

God invites us to return to him.

14 Who knows whether he will have a change of heart
    and leave a blessing behind him,
    a grain offering and a drink offering
            for the Lord your God?

Ash Wednesday should come in like a storm. It should blow us out of our complacency and flood us with clarity. It should level the idols we have erected on our shores and raze our temples of self-sufficiency and arrogance. It should linger long enough to erode all of our wantonness and allow a righteous wind to take its place. It should create inlets that cut us off from our sin.

A holy Lent involves returning to God with repentant hearts and spending time in prayer, study, fasting, self-denial, worship, and service. God offers us the blessing of renewal in this stormy season. Will you come aboard?

Save yourself!

Darkening Skys by Michelle Robertson


It happens every year. We just get past the overindulgence of Thanksgiving gravy, Christmas pie, New Years’ toasts, Super Bowl snacks, Valentine’s chocolates, and BAM. Lent happens. This 40-day period of self examination is not designed to punish us for our self-indulgences, but rather it provides an opportunity to grow closer to God by focusing on the things that realign our priorities and our time. It is a chance to re-center our thinking. It is a chance to re-do our to-do lists and put God at the top. We worship a God of second chances, and Lent is our chance once again to shift our lives back toward God.

But more than that, Lent is about our mortality. The ashes we place on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday remind us that from the earth we have come and to the earth we return….ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This sobering season begins when the alarm has sounded, the assembly has gathered, and the day of darkness is upon us:

Joel 2 (New Revised Standard Version)

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
    a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
    nor will be again after them
    in ages to come.

We are invited to return…..and repent:

Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13     rend your hearts and not your clothing.

The promise is offered: if we return to the Lord, he will relent from punishing. As we re-Lent, he will relent.

Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
    and relents from punishing.
14 Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
    and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
    for the Lord, your God?

The call is urgent to come to the altar quickly. The time is upon us to begin this process. Even the bride and bridegroom are summoned from their bedchamber to be about the Lord’s business.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
    sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16     gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
    assemble the aged;
gather the children,
    even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
    and the bride her canopy.

17 Between the vestibule and the altar
    let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
    and do not make your heritage a mockery,
    a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
    ‘Where is their God?’”

Many of us will not be able to gather in an assembly tonight due to the pandemic. Some of you may have obtained ashes from your church and will participate in an Ash Wednesday service online. In any case, you are invited to contemplate taking on the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, scripture reading, self-examination, repentance, meditation, and penitence. You may choose to give something up for the next six weeks so that you can focus on God in its absence. You may choose to add a new practice that would take you deeper in your discipleship. I hope reading this daily devotional will be part of your commitment! If you don’t have access to ashes, you can use water and make the sign of the cross on your forehead as a mark of your sincerity.

I pray that you will join me as we observe a Holy Lent.

Gracious and Loving God, be with us today as we contemplate those things that have pulled us away from you. Help us to return. We hear your call and we desire nothing but a right relationship with your Son. Grant us a meaningful Lent season, so that when Easter morning dawns, you will find us to be new people, made more like him and less like ourselves. AMEN

Dust to Dust by Becca Ziegler