In 1971, an art student at Portland State University named Carolyn Davidson got a job doing some freelance design work for a local sporting goods company. They were looking for a company logo, an emblem. Carolyn Davidson came up with something in just a few hours. Everyone liked what she did and thanked her. For a day’s work, she was paid $35.
Little did anyone realize what Carolyn Davidson had created. That design went on to generate billions—and made history.
What she came up with is the now-famous Nike swoosh. It may be the most successful, most recognizable, most visible corporate symbol in the world. Anyone in any language knows exactly what it represents. And millions around the world know the phrase that goes with it:
“Just do it.”
Graphic designers will tell you it’s a symbol without equal in the world.
But this morning, to begin the season of Lent, we will bear an emblem even greater, more visible, more powerful: the cross, made of ashes. We will wear it on our foreheads and carry it into the world as a sign of repentance, and sacrifice, and a quiet but purposeful desire to change.
And our message—to ourselves and to those around us—is the same as the one from Nike.
Just do it.
If you aren’t the person you want to be, and want to change…just do it.
If you are far from God and yearn to be closer…just do it.
If you’ve been putting off confession, out of fear or shame or simple procrastination…just do it.
As the scripture told us a few moments ago: now is an acceptable time. This is the season to resolve, to repent, to renew. There is no time like now.
Just do it.
We sinners come together every year on this Wednesday to declare our hopes and strengthen our resolve. And we leave marked.
These marks on our brow are like billboards—advertisements of who we are, what we are.
These ashes tell the world: we are works in progress. We are God’s renovation project. So, like fixer uppers, we are covered in dust.
The dust of what we are, the dust of what we will become.
These marks also proclaim exactly who we are. We are Christians. We have been claimed by Christ. And for that reason, we have vowed to honor this season leading up to the holiest week on our calendar. We will fast. We will sacrifice. We will pray.
We don’t begin these days frivolously. We begin them hungry. But it’s more than just a desire for a hamburger.
It’s a hunger for a deeper prayer life. We are hungry for forgiveness. Hungry to be more of what God wants us to be.
And so we give up those things we love.
But we also work to give up those things that make us comfortable and secure and safe.
Want to be challenged this Lent?
Give up pride. Give up jealousy.
Give up fighting on Facebook.
Give up having to have the last word.
Give up nursing old grudges or picking at old wounds.
But don’t just give up something. Give something.
Give a hand for someone who needs it.
Give attention to someone who is ignored.
Give a prayer for someone who has hurt you.
Give and forgive.
Give in the way that Jesus gave.
We talk about giving alms during Lent. And we are called to remember in a special way those in need. But we forget: the word “alms” comes from a Greek word that means “mercy.”
If we give nothing else, we need to give mercy. As much as the ashes on our brows, that should also mark us as Catholic Christians.
So give tenderness. Compassion.
At baptism, the first mark we receive is the sign of the cross on our foreheads. Today, we receive it there again, but as a reminder of our mortality. We remember that we don’t have forever. We are just dust.
But we hold on to this hope: are also works in progress. Here and now, let the progress begin.
Now is a very acceptable time.
Now is the day of salvation.
Humbled by the cross that saved us, have faith.
Inspired by God’s own mercy, offer mercy.
This Lent, resolve to begin anew.
And: Just do it!