Parity, a LGBTQ group announced a new initiative this Lenten season. They are calling it “Glitter Ash Wednesday.” Participants will receive glitter mixed into their ashes from participating congregations.
Organizers say, “Glitter Ash Wednesday will demonstrate that LGBTQ Christians and our allies are passionate about our faith, and about seeking justice and wholeness for LGBTQ communities and other marginalized people.” Parity, the organization behind Glitter Ash Wednesday reveals the false gospel undergirding this idea:
“God made you. You matter. There are no barriers between you, God, and the whole, full life you are called to live.”
But if that is true, then we would ask why did Jesus have to die? What is Christian passion if it ignores the Passion of the Christ? Why talk about Ash Wednesday, Good Friday or Easter Sunday at all if there is no real need for a sinless Savior to redeem us from the power of sin in life and the penalty of sin in death?
Parity’s statement suggests a form of Christianity without the Cross. That is not truth. While it is true that God created you and you matter, there is a barrier between the Holy God and every sinful human. If we say we are without sin the truth is not in us but if we confess our sinfulness and rely upon Jesus – His incarnation, atoning death, resurrection and ascension— then the barrier is broken down and we are reconciled to God.
Ash Wednesday initiates a forty day period of personal reflection and repentance focused on the reality of Holy Week, Good Friday and finally Easter. The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are the charred remains of last year’s palms to which loud Hosannas were sung at the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Those same crowds turned murderous and called for Jesus’ crucifixion just five days later.
To be clear, we each and all need a Savior. Sin is rebellion against God and we’re all born into it. We are all guilty of it. There is no gradient of sin. We all fall short. And there is a penalty for sin— it’s death.
2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us why Jesus had to die, “ For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We cannot bridge the chasm our sin created. And a Holy God cannot tolerate sin. God Himself reconciled these two irreconcilable facts in the only way possible: He provided the perfect sacrifice in our place.
It may be more comfortable to skim over Good Friday and what necessitated Christ’s death, but that’s not The Gospel. We cannot have the freedom promised in Christ’s resurrection without accepting His work on the Cross in our place.
Some will be tempted to pass Glitter Ash Wednesday off as a Carnival of the absurd. But beneath the show there is heartbreaking misdirection, an old attempt to replace the liberty offered to sin’s captives with something other than Christ alone.
Luther writes to the Church on the book of Galatians:
“[I]f we do not by faith take hold of Christ as he sits at the God’s right hand, interceding with the Father for us wretched sinners, then we are under the law and not under grace, and Christ is no more a Savior, but a lawgiver. Then there will be no salvation for us, but a certain desperation and everlasting death, unless repentance follows.”
So to even participate in the celebration of Ash Wednesday, we need to answer this central question: Why did Jesus leave the glory of heaven to be born in human flesh and allow Himself to be subjected to this reality? Why did Jesus die? Why was such sacrifice necessary? What does John mean when he cries out, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?” Why is Holy Week holy and why is repentance of sin necessary?
If the answers to these questions don’t align with the actual Biblical witness then they are lies, even if they parade around the streets as self-proclaimed truth.
John Newton, the slave-trader turned hymnist wrote in his last days this succinct reminder, “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” This is the only truth to which we can cling.
The good news of the Gospel is God’s redemptive plan for salvation. And at center of that plan is Jesus. Without Jesus there is no salvation, no shimmer, no light.
Glitter, in the end, is just tiny broken pieces of reflective glass. Glitter doesn’t redeem and it doesn’t enlighten the ashes of sin and death. For that there is Christ, alone.
(1) The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Galatians by Martin Luther, xxii