By Kelli Sallman
Reposted with permission from
From Ash Wednesday to Easter, the Lenten season beckons us to consider our mortality and sinfulness. But that inward look can develop into tunnel vision if we don’t venture up from the depths, into God’s light, to see what He’s doing in this great cosmic battle. And that’s really what we’ve been experiencing this past challenging year—and every year before it and after—the cosmic battle playing out on our home soil. In our distress, we can easily miss this bigger picture, the telescopic view of our Savior and our world, and when we do, we see more dividing lines than unity, more failure than victory.
The three movements of “A Word Spoken for Ash Wednesday” were created for the Ash Wednesday service in February 2021, to help us remember who we are as the church in Christ—and whose we are in this great battle. Take a few minutes to WATCH each movement in video format, created to help you contemplate our complicity in the problem, Jesus’s offer of absolution, and His invitation into something wholly and divinely better.
Based on Isaiah 55; Ezekiel 37:1–14; Ephesians 2–4; 6:10–20
With help from the body: Randy Bonifield, Dawn Heckert, Callie Johnson, Kia Hunt, Bobbie Jeffrey, and Emily Hobbs
Video Performances: Michael Burke, Alyssa Hershey, Michelle Lee
Under the steeple
steeped in truth, full of people,
a darkness persists in the middle of the light.
’Cause while we the people in our pews take an hour away from news
to turn our eyes on Jesus,
in our flesh, we’re priming for a fight.
See, we’ve been stepped on, and the truth, it’s been dumped on,
and there’s a sea of white crosses for the ones
who’ve been imposed on to give their lives
for our freedom.
So we lash out with lashes against the trash talk of the masses
that we see as the crowd
of our country, the overloud
of our culture—the ones who don’t think
like me. In fact, the ones
who are evil, the ones
who need Jesus.
And so we take our Bibles, and we flail them at our neighbors.
We holler like children, “Mom, he started it!” We cry,
“I didn’t do it!” And inside we seethe
at the injustices on earth.
All the while—
in a dark corner of the cosmos, the underworld of the universe,
the serpent nurses bruises and sinks low to sit and watch
the great reality, the show of earth.
He might run scared from a legion of saints
from every region, arms locked
not with religion but relation to the Regent—the King
of kings—the Savior—as we fight a common foe.
But here? There’s just a dust up in the ranks
that need to stand up, that are subdivided
by our make-up and the privilege
we won’t give up.
So Satan, he’s gettin’ cozy as us cretins,
we just mosey on down to the mud pits he set
to trap us in.
Like a sister getting fed up or a brother who won’t put up,
we just bicker till we break up, we argue
and we beat up God’s own image for a mockup of his kingdom.
And the image that we hold up to the world is a soul
that feels so small.
We have eaten and devoured the Word so much
that our spirits are parched, so that our hearts dry and shrivel.
But we deny it.
We might be right, but still wrong
because brother against brother, and
sister against sister, we leave our father and mother
to fight a holy war
all our own.
No grace, no irresistible attraction, no quarter for our enemies.
From dust we were taken and to dust
we shall return, but in the middle, we want
power, we want pride, we want perfection, we want profession, we want protection, we want possessions,
so in our pews, we take our eyes off the redeemer
of the nations,
and we set the world on fire.
We set the church on fire.
We reduce ourselves to ashes.
And Satan, in his Lazy Boy,
kicks his feet up
Jesus stands over our ashes and he weeps—
for his church, his tears clear the air.
Can you see him?
While we wager on our dreams, he fights for our imaginations.
While we wheedle through politics, he fights for our ideals.
While we wrestle over pennies, he fights for our souls.
We fight for our philosophies, our rights, and our security.
He’s not just a lover of wisdom, he’s the wisdom that loves.
He’s not just the defender of right, he’s the righteous defender.
He’s not just the giver of riches, he’s the giver of life.
With the earth as his footstool, his thoughts rise to the heavens,
his arms reach around the universe. His word created the cosmos,
yet his hands bear the scars of sinners. (That bit wasn’t Satan; we did that.)
His heel crushed the serpent but was nailed to a cross. (We did that, too.)
So let me declare boldly the surprise of the gospel,
the mystery of the ages, the foolishness of earth:
We can be so wrong, yet still right
with the Father—
Gentiles share privilege with the Jews.
They’re members of the same body.
They eat at the same table.
They partake of the same promise.
In fact, the gospel gets better than that.
Hold your hats on, my people.
See, the banquet is waiting.
You bet Satan is watching; he has turned up the volume;
he’s perched on his chair to pick off survivors,
to see who we’ll vote off the island.
In his hand is an app that picks the winners and losers,
he swipes and sows more division,
he posts and scorns with derision,
he manipulates the algorithm of the human mind and heart.
But Jesus, standing in our ashes, divine ruler of the cosmos,
lays his sword down.
He lays his stone down.
He lays his body down
and rolls in the dust that is us.
And when he rises, the all-sufficient, the magnificent glory
of God is encased in our own mingled ashes.
The Christ once held his arms out; now, he holds his hands out
and he offers the bread and the wine of the banquet not just to Gentile and Jew
but to socialist and capitalist, to the nationalist and the centrist,
to the populist and the elitist, to the Calvinist and the Methodist,
the fundamentalist and the syncretist, the anarchist and the conspiracist
—and get me, church—
to the rapist and the murderer, the papist, the embezzler,
the racist, the ignorant, the opposition, the arrogant,
the repugnant, the grumbler, the reviler, the complainer,
the promiscuous, the gambler, the drunkard, and the arguer.
He holds his hands out to the liar, the thief, the snitch, and the denier,
invites the tax collector, the fallen woman, the self-made man and his choir.
Are you worried that I’m naming you?
Or afraid he’ll leave you out?
His guest list includes the self-indulgent, the lazy, the jealous, the crazy,
the gossip, the bully, the self-righteous, the unholy,
the pedigreed, the undocumented, the worshiper of idols—
and such are we. Such are we, yet he holds his hands out
and invites us to unity in the beauty of our diversity
to the one faith that can bind us and uphold us;
he holds his hands out so we’ll know him—
so we’ll know him—
so we’ll know him:
the Son of God.
And at the banquet there are two names on the guest list:
First, the unconquerable, the Savior, the unquenchable, the Spirit,
the unchangeable, the Father—and the name we must profess is Jesus.
The other label, despite our libel and our slander, is fully able
to get our nation back to livin’
to get the church back to lovin’
to get our world out of the scorched-earth mud
because our name is
Come and seek.
Come and see.
All across the grieving world, the Christ holds his hands out:
“Come buy wine and fresh milk without cost, without price.”
But while these bones, dry and parched, reach for Jesus,
we look around at devastation
and ask, “How shall we now live?”
In the valley of ashes, we hear a great rattling
as the bones that were battling join together—
bone, flesh, and sinew, every joint held with glue—
every part working properly.
From the ashes we rise.
As with the clay he once formed, Yahweh fashions a new body.
One arm equipped most for justice; the other, more for truth.
This hand, equipped for mercy, that tongue, equipped to soothe.
He empowers one foot to follow; he humbles this leg enough to lead—
Yahweh forms us from every tribe, tongue, and nation, every color, stripe, and creed
and burns away our strongholds—
from the ashes we rise.
He pumps the bellows and stokes the coals and lights a holy flame;
for us, he forges a heart of flesh and reignites us again.
He names love as the stumbling block, recommissions service as our crown,
hammers out his holy Word so we grasp heaven and bring it down.
And though we may not know how to do this, even though we disagree,
this new temple isn’t just me full of God; it’s God housed in we.
The church stands when we understand; from the ashes we rise.
Because as we call ourselves “blessed Christians” and also
“those with a wicked bent,”
we will look to our head that is Jesus to remember why we’re sent.
We will think the thoughts of God and look at others through his eyes,
and speak his words of mercy. The cosmic battle wages in us,
but we’ll respond as the One who’s wise—from the ashes we will rise!
We will see the down and out, the CEO, the angry, the terrorized,
the journalist, the common man, the woman who took our prize,
the family member who makes it hard to breathe, the victim who just cries,
and we’ll set aside our roar of thunder and our earthquake reprise;
we will bend to embrace all these who thirst and those we once despised
and engage their ears with a whisper:
“Leave the war. Come to the banquet.”
Then the trees will clap their hands, the mountains will start to sing
because the valley of ashes has come to new life—
what was cut off and dry now sprouts green!
At the last, Yahweh dips his finger in the ashes—
see, with this new body he isn’t quite done—
He says, “Put a mark of peace on their foreheads.
Ah! This one is my Son.”