Read Genesis 3:1-19; John 1:1-5, 14; 3:1-17; Mark 1:1-15
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Surely most, if not all, of us have the image etched into our head. There in a quaint little cemetery, stand a group of people dressed in black, all gathered around a rectangular hole in the ground. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” echo the priest’s voice through the thickened, damp mist that blankets the sky in a dismal, dark gray. As the words fade out into the foggy veil, the rain begins to fall, each drop turning the dusty ground into muddy spittle.
This is an image that reminds us all of our own mortality. It is often an image that we reserve for depressing dramas, eerie horror movies or other stories that are meant to haunt us in the night. When all is said and done, most of us try to bury the notion of our mortality until the moment in which we must come face to face with it. We all know that we are mortal, that our time here is limited; however, most of us live our lives in a way that seeming denies what we know to be true.
Such images often come to mind on Ash Wednesday, where we are reminded of our mortality; however, it is also a day in which we are supposed to be reminded of our imperfection. The reminder of our mortality does, in fact, humble us to recognize our need for something bigger than we are. In ancient Israel, and the surrounding regions, people who sough God’s forgiveness would wear sackcloth and roll around in ash, as seen in Jeremiah 6:26. The ash served as a reminder of the penitent person’s mortality, humbling the person into repentance. This also went along with fasting and continual prayer.
But the ultimate point of Ash Wednesday goes far beyond the grave, far beyond human mortality, and far beyond human culpability. After all, we were not created to live in a permanent state of guilt. Unfortunately, many Christians get stuck in the mea culpa mentality, believing that they are sinners in the hands of an angry God. I remember being stuck in that state, praying for forgiveness every second of every moment I prayed. My prayers would consist of, “Lord, forgive me of this” and, “Lord, forgive me of that.” I would sometimes repeat the words “forgive me” without really knowing what I was seeking forgiveness for.
As Christians, the ashes being imposed on Ash Wednesday should not only remind us of our immortality and/or our culpability; however, it should also be a reminder that we are constantly being sought out by a God who loves us; that God loved us so much that God chose to take on our form and live life as a mortal. A God who chose to become dust with us, and return to dust for us. But the story doesn’t stop there, because out of the dust God rose up and conquered death, showing us that nothing is impossible for those who believe that true LOVE never dies.
While many people focus on the mortality and culpability aspects of Ash Wednesday, and those aspects have their place, I see this day of observance to be one of celebrating life in God. It is a day in which we are reminded of the mighty works God has done in and through Christ Jesus…and the mighty works God is doing in and through each and every one of us! So, wherever you are today, when you are getting the ashes imposed, close your eyes and see the God who rose from the dust and turned the ashes into lilies. Then open your eyes and remember that this is exactly what God has done in you! Breathe in the life God has given you and go share that life with others.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“”The cross, with which the ashes are traced upon us, is the sign of Christ’s victory over death.” – Thomas Merton
Lord, help me to move forward from guilt to the new life you have waiting for me. Help me also to share that life in relevant ways with those around me who are in need of it. Amen.