Well, the team for whom I was rooting in Super Bowl 50 won the game, and yet this morning I cannot help but feel great sadness for one member of the losing team, Cam Newton. Honestly, I could not have been any more pleased at how he and his team were thoroughly dominated from start to finish. After two weeks of hearing how it was going to be a blowout of epic proportions because Denver could not expect to keep up with Carolina’s high-powered offense, I was ecstatic to see Carolina shut down. I should be very happy about this, no? As Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend!”

Less than three minutes into the post-game presser, it became painfully obvious that Mr. Newton (for whatever reason – his or those around him) was simply not prepared to deal with failure on this scale. His non-verbals, as well as his very short verbals, showed the sheer agony that he was experiencing because he never expected his team to be completely humiliated in this way; for it to occur because he played what I would be would be one of the worst games of his life I am sure made it even harder for him to process, much less comprehend what the heck just happened. I mentioned last night on Facebook that I felt his support system let him down from the pre-game on through the post-game.

And yet I saw all this in a completely new light late this morning as I was finalizing the order of service for our Ash Wednesday Observance. As it is stated in The United Methodist Book of Worship, “Ash Wednesday emphasizes a dual encounter: we confront our own mortality and confess our sin before God within the community of faith…The use of ashes as a sign of mortality and repentance has a long history in Jewish and Christian worship, and the Imposition of Ashes can be a powerful nonverbal and experiential way of participating in the call to repentance and reconciliation.

In other words, Ash Wednesday (and, indeed, the entire Lenten season) forces us to deal with those parts of our lives that are less-than-stellar; ah, forget it, let’s call it what it is – it forces us to deal with the disgusting underbelly of sin that is part of our lives that we try to shield from ourselves, others, and God Almighty. The Lenten season, starting with Ash Wednesday, makes us deal with the uncomfortable realities of the state of our souls not to condemn us, but in order that we may be awakened once again to the desperate need of divine grace, healing, reconciliation, and redemption that is found only in Christ our Lord.

Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday see us with large crowds of people who enjoy the celebration; yet it is only in wallowing in the ashes at the start of Lent that allow us to celebrate with unbridled joy the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. All of us are going to be faced with the reality of our own mortality and sinful nature – let us make sure that we are prepared for times such as these through a proper observance of the Lenten season, starting this Wednesday!

What bothers me the most about Mr. Newton was not his behavior; the tragedy is that he wasn’t prepared for this dark day. Let us take advantage of the community of faith that surrounds us so that we may encourage and uplift one another in the darkest moments of defeat so that our celebration is that much sweeter!

Grace and Peace, Lamar