Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Today some of us will attend an Ash Wednesday service.
Some of us will see folks with crosses on their foreheads and think, "What on earth is that about?"
Still others will see people with smudges on their foreheads and politely say, "You've got something on your face."
I've been each of the people listed above. I'd never heard of Ash Wednesday until I was a teenager, and lived close to New Orleans. There people celebrated throughout Mardi Gras, really whooped it up on Fat Tuesday, then went to church on Ash Wednesday.
To be honest, it was all Greek to me.
Later I learned about the season of Lent. For hundreds of years now, many Christians have marked the 40 days before Easter as a particular time of reflection and repentance. The Lenten season begins with Ash Wednesday. Special Ash Wednesday services may include a minister's making the sign of the cross upon the foreheads of congregants. The ashes themselves might even come from burning the palms left from Palm Sunday the year before.
The imposition of ashes upon one's head is symbolic, of course, but what a powerful symbol! With the placing of ashes on one's head comes the entreaty: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return," echoing God's words to Adam in Genesis 3:19.
That admonishment is meant to call us to God by reminding us that our days are numbered. In it I find echoes of Solomon's heartfelt cry, "Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth" (Ecclesiastes 12:1), or Paul's earnest plea, "Now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2).
I appreciate that reminder—no, I need the reminder.
Just this week I learned of yet another person who has been diagnosed with cancer at a very young age. Last week I heard of a young person who was tragically killed in an accident. I'm reminded that our time here is fleeting. We are dust, and to dust we will return.
I am so apt to get caught up in the events of every day and the dreams of "some day" that I forget that today is a gift from God. Today is when I must be faithful to the work God has called me to do.
This day, I wear the sign of the cross, grateful for the reminder.
How about you? Do you observe Ash Wednesday? Do you participate in an observance of Lent? Why or why not? I'd love to learn from you!