Ashes to ashes…

What’s the deal with the ashes on the forehead?  Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent in which we spend 40 days preparing for Easter.  It is an ancient season of the church in which the original practice involved fasting for 40 days (not including Sundays which are always Resurrection days) prior to Easter.  That puts the start date on a Wednesday 6 weeks earlier.  40 days symbolizes the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert after he began his public ministry and came to be baptized in the Jordan River.  40 days always reminds us of the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering around in the desert after their escape from Egypt.  (Does your life feel a little like that at times?)

Lent is a time in which we do some internal work in order to be ready for the amazing gift of Easter morning.  It often involves rituals of personal sacrifice (people give up chocolate, sodas, or some other luxury or habit) and extra time for introspection and prayer.  It is a season in which we are particularly aware of our sinfulness.  That begins tonight in a spirit of confession.

Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite worship services of the year.  There is something gritty and so visual with the physical connection to the ashes.  It is a “putting in our place” which we all need to be reminded of, well yearly.  It is a harsh reminder of our mortality and how precious this gift of life is.  And it is an opportunity to ask God to forgive us.  Forgive us of whatever it is that we have done to break relations with God – today.

Ash has always been a sign of repentance.  Sitting on a heap of ashes, smearing it on one’s body was an ancient biblical practice of either grieving or lamenting one’s sinfulness and brokenness.  Thankfully we don’t have to plop down on a pile of ashes! But we do have the opportunity to have a few ashes smeared on our forehead. (Of interest to note, the ashes come from burning the palm leaves from the Palm Sunday the year before.) Seeing a room of people with the sign of the cross on their forehead uniting in a spirit of confession is a powerful place to sit for a while.  Maybe no other images-3moment reminds me of the proper order of things.  God is God and we are not.  But it also is an invitation to turn over to God the confessions of your heart.  Get it off your conscience.  Seek healing and forgiveness.

And most importantly, know that in the ashes and the confessions, God always arrives. With a word of grace and love.  The cross is significant.  Although it is a sign of our guilt, it is the sign of hope through which God responds.  It is a harbinger of what is to come in a few weeks.  And it is a reminder that God creates everything from, well dust.  We are redeemed particles of dust.  We are perfectly molded bodies of dust.  We are vessels of ash- living and breathing.  But dust none the less.  And yet, when these vessels of dust cry out for help, cry out for forgiveness, cry out for love – our God never fails to respond.  Tonight will be no different.  Ponder these words from poet Jan Richardson:

Will you meet us

In the ashes,

Will you meet us

in the ache

and show your face

within our sorrow

and offer us

your word of grace:

 

that you are life

within the dying,

that you abide

within the dust

that you are what

survives the burning,

that you arise

to make us new.

 

And in our aching,

you are breathing;

and in our weeping,

you are here

within the hands

that bear your blessing,

enfolding us

within your love.

-Jan Richardson

You shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say. Here I am.            -Isaiah 58:9

Our Ash Wednesday service is at 7:00 Wednesday night in our auditorium.Join us for a powerful time of prayer and reflection.  Come meet God in your dust.

Grace and Peace,

Lory Beth

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