From dust you came, from dust you shall return. It can be morbid, or it can be releasing. It can be confusing, or it can be humbling. It can be an empty ritual, or it can be a life-giving gesture in community.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the day of repentance and remembrance that begins the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter. On this day, millions of Christians around the world come together to begin our journey with Christ to the cross. Confessing our sins and brokenness before God and before others, we use the ancient symbol of ashes to recognize our vulnerability and mortality. We use this time for naming and repenting of our pride, selfishness, impatience, hypocrisy, dishonesty, and apathy. We seek the forgiveness and mercy of God and of those we have wronged. And together we hope expectantly for the joy that comes with Easter.
This afternoon there was a deeply meaningful community worship service at Andover Newton that brought together both the imposition of ashes and the celebration of communion and life. It also ended with a beautiful surprise. I hope these words can help me to express this prayerful and powerful hour.
Quietly we gather
With words we speak as one
In songs we praise and lament
Through prayer we seek and call God to be near
Holding one another we confess
Laying our hands on the bread and the cup we give thanks.
With eyes squeezed shut and lips silently moving
We acknowledge our brokenness
In the presence of God,
And others, vulnerable.
With fingers dipped in mud and ash
We mark one another and speak words of truth:
“We are dust.”
Through the windows, in the March air
As we are blackened with our brokenness
We see the world slowly become white.
We remember the briefness of our days
And the darkness that lives in the world
And in us.
But one by one as we leave the chapel
The slowly falling snow yet reminds us that
Death and ashes are not the final word.
The cross that we spread on our foreheads
Is replaced by the new and snow-covered
Grace of God.