Friday, February 11, 2005

The Origins of Ash Wednesday

I promise that this will be the last of the Ash Wednesday postings. I hadn't intended to have a theme week, but Waf asked me what the ashes symbolize and I'm nothing if not dedicated to my loyal readers - or reader - and so I thought I'd post the answer.

Now, Waf's question comes up every year and I have to admit that I'm a little fuzzy when it comes to the whole ashes story, so I'm probably not the best person to ask. I mean, I understand that Lent is a time for reflection and that we're supposed to concentrate on the sacrifice that Jesus made when he died for our sins, but frankly my mind used to wander a lot in church and so I'm not convinced that I every truly understood the whole story. From what I recall it goes something like this.

At one point, both Christmas and Easter were celebrated on December 25. During this time, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus were locked in a fierce competition for the hearts and minds of young children. Both traveled the world in a single night, and they arrived at each house at the exact same time. A brief rooftop struggle would commence as they fought to be the first down the chimney.

Before you ask, I have no idea how the Easter Bunny got on the roof. Like I said, I wasn't paying attention most of the time. Besides, that's not the point of the story.

May I continue now?

Anyway, once down the chimney, they would continue their battle inside of the house. More often than not, children would awaken the following morning to find their Christmas tree knocked over, their gifts crushed, their Easter baskets destroyed, and brightly colored broken eggshells scattered across the floor. Their parents were none too happy about this. First they had to deal with crying children - which is never fun - and then they had to clean up the mess.

I mean, have you ever tried to get chimney soot out of your carpet and furniture? It's nearly impossible.

All through the night and all around the world, the battle would rage on. The Easter Bunny was nimble and used his speed to his advantage on the ground where Santa was too old and heavy to keep up. However, the reindeer driven sleigh gave Santa air superiority. Between houses, the Easter Bunny would throw eggs at Santa in an effort to knock him from the sleigh, while Santa dive bombed the Easter Bunny and hurled toys at his head.

You can imagine the level of destruction this spread across the land.

Finally, enough was enough and a group of influential citizens went to Jesus and asked him to broker a peace accord to stop what they'd termed The Great Chimney War. Jesus agreed, and this set the stage for an historic meeting

Now, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny each admired Jesus tremendously. In fact, the very reason that both had chosen December 25 as their holiday was because it was Jesus' birthday. So, if they were going to listen to anyone, it was Him.

As the talks began, it was immediately evident that the animosity between Santa and the Easter bunny ran deep. At times it even appeared that there was no hope for a settlement, but Jesus had faith and so he persevered.

Finally, after negotiating with both sides over a period of months, He came upon an ingenious solution. He sat Santa and the Easter Bunny down and told them that He was willing to die and rise again, in order to create a second "birthday" that one of them could claim as their holiday.

The Easter Bunny thought about how he froze his tail off every December. Then he considered how much he enjoyed spring - and how the female rabbits he would see as he travelled the world would be a little friskier in the spring than they were in winter. Never one to turn down a chance for a roll in the proverbial hay, he quickly agreed to take the new holiday.

As part of the agreement, Jesus asked for forty days to get his affairs in order and so, to this day, Christians recognize Jesus' sacrifice, by putting soot on their forehead forty days before Easter..