When I do this I say the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return…Repent and believe in the Gospel.” These are powerful words that remind us of our mortality… That is, none of us is going to live forever… They also remind us of our need for God.
Some may think this a bit morbid, even unnecessary. I agree it is not the usual…encouraging… inspiring emphases of our worship. There is however, something to recognizing that as human beings, life is limited and being limited, it is also precious. And being so precious, it is important at times to stop and evaluate how it’s all going… I don’t know about your life, but I have more than a few things in mine that could be going a little better.
Ashes in the scripture are used as a sign of regret or repentance. People would cover themselves in ashes in order to say two things. First, it was a recognition that they had done something or were participating in a pattern of behavior that was less than desirable. And secondly, they wanted to be rid of these unwanted behaviors….to sort of burn up the thing or things that were keeping them from a full life. We often call this sin, and although it is a powerful word, it is the right one to remember for Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is a time to recognize the parts of our lives where we admit to … things we do and things we do not do that are sinful… The Ashes are about taking responsibility… they are about accountability…. They are about recognizing who we are sometimes. But they are not about who we will always be, nor are they how God sees us. Ashes are not about shaming us into better behavior… they are about reminding ourselves of what we can sometimes be.
We put these Ashes on our foreheads as a common way of saying “This is who I am sometimes.” If it feels a bit public and dramatic…it’s supposed to be. It’s the one time of year when we all sort of admit to being less than perfect....which in it’s own way is also a way of saying, we are all in this together.
I keep the Ashes we will use on a bookshelf right in front of me year round for two reasons. The first is so that I don’t misplace them and have to run around finding some ashes. The second is so that every once in a while I can look over at them and touch my forehead and remember that we are all in this together and how precious life is meant to be.
Keep the Faith,