Weekly Update: The Smell of Sin…


“The Smell of Sin…”sins burning, lent

Weekly Update for Millard Community Covenant Church, Week of March 1, 2017

By Kristen Rae Nelson

It’s begun again—this time in the church year that we affectionately call “Lent”.  It’s that time where we take a good look at our lives and turn our hearts back to God; that time where the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ takes on a more palpable reality.

I’ve always loved this season—a time where this normally hurried and scattered girl can take time to sit and pray and contemplate and think.

This week, we began Lent with Ash Wednesday—that somewhat strange-looking day where we remember our own mortality by having ashes spread on our forehead in the sign of the cross.  It’s a tradition to burn the palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday service to make the ashes for this year’s Ash Wednesday service.  What a wonderful reality—that the palms waved to praise Jesus as King are also the palms burned to remind us of our own ever-present need for His grace and life-giving salvation.

On Tuesday afternoon, it was time to make the ashes.  I found the bundle of dried palms hiding in the back of my desk cabinet.  They were as dry as crackers, and ready to be used as kindling.  I smiled as I took them out, remembering how the children had waved them last year as they came into the sanctuary, singing, “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna, the little children sang!”.  Now these palms would serve a much different purpose.

I grabbed a metal bucket, matches, and the palms, and opened up the door of the Fellowship Hall to the outside.  I placed the bucket on the concrete slab and began ripping the palms into small pieces, placing them into the bucket.  The palms ripped into my hands, giving me splinters and cuts (I still have the scars and scabs to prove it!).  Soon, I had a bucket full of dried palms that awaited fire.

They started right up—a flame hot and strong.  Since it was a cold and windy day, I stood with the door slightly ajar in the church, watching just a couple feet away as the palms burned brightly.  But as they burned, I realized that the thick and pungent smoke was being blown into the church by the hard-driving wind!  By the time I became aware, it was too late.  The Fellowship Hall, my clothes, my hair, even my skin were all filled with the odor of burned ashes.

As the flame burned out and cooled off, I brought the bucket back into the church, ready for the Ash Wednesday service.  But there was still the pesky matter of the smoke to deal with.  I turned the fans on in the Fellowship Hall—that took care of that.  But as I sat in my office, the pungent smoke on my sweater assaulted my nose.  I had to change my clothes.  Going over to my house, I changed out of every item of clothing I had on, and put on new.  There—that should take care of the smell of smoke.  Walking back to the office and sitting down to work, it didn’t take more than five minutes for me to notice the smell on my person again.  Ah—my hair.  The smoke was in my hair…and my skin.  It had permeated all of me.  The only way to get the stench of the Ash Wednesday smoke out of my person was to have a good and thorough washing…

As I washed the smell of the smoke away, I thought of the significance of how “sticky” and “stinky” the smell had been for me.  On Ash Wednesday, the ashes we use represent our death and our sin—and our undeniable need for a Savior.  How appropriate, then, that I couldn’t get the smell, the scent, the reminder of that “sin” off of me until I was thoroughly made clean.  How powerful to remember that we can try to air out our lives, we can try to change our clothes, we can do everything we can to get the sin out of our lives ourselves—but it won’t work.  Not until we are “washed by the blood of the Lamb”—Jesus—will the sin in our lives be removed.  Not until we realize that we need  a Savior will we be able to be made new.

Psalm 51 cries out to God, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so You are right in Your verdict and justified when You judge…Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice.  Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing sprit to sustain me.”  (Psalm 51:1-4, 7-12)

As we begin to walk through Lent this month, on the journey with our Savior to the cross, I pray that it is the prayer of your heart to have God “cleanse you” and “create in you a pure heart”.  I know that’s my prayer—for you, and for me.

Blessings to you, Friends!

-Pastor Kristen