“Earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.“
In much of the Protestant church, Ash Wednesday wasn’t really observed until the last thirty or forty years. I do remember celebrating “Fasnacht Day,” the Pennsylvania-Dutch version of Carnival or Shrove Tuesday, or Pasczki Day. I experienced King cake for the first time a few years ago.
The Methodist Women of the church in which I grew up made mountains of fried doughnuts in the church basement to sell to raise money for mission, and I remember the fragrant deliciousness. Some of us have enjoyed Fat Tuesday pancake suppers. There are so many delicious ways to use up lard, butter, sugar, and other fats before the Lenten fast.
The ancient Church in its wisdom worked out the rhythms of the Christian year. For many of us who didn’t grow up Catholic, Ash Wednesday was a new experience at some point. Some congregations eased into holding an Ash Wednesday service that was centered in the Lord’s Supper, and maybe in another year or two or more also invited people to have ashes imposed if they wanted them. Maybe the first year or two, a few people came forward for Ashes, and then another year more people wanted ashes.
I think the practice has been growing, as people have recognized that it’s a gift to be reminded of our mortality. It helps to bring things into focus for us.
Last week, as we grieved the loss of our brother Hank, we gave thanks for the gift of his life, and witnessed to our faith and hope in the Resurrection. We were reminded, once again, that our days on earth are numbered.
When we are reminded of our mortality, we remember that not only are we dust and that we will return to dust, but we remember those who have gone before us.
On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that repentance means turning away from our self and turning toward Jesus. We are that the Lenten journey isn’t just about giving up something, but also about standing up for someone, because our faith calls us to do so.
The season of Lent can be a time for peeling away layers of insulation and anesthesia and denial that keep us from the truth of God’s promises.
Lent is about looking at our lives in as bright a light as possible—the light of Christ. It is during this time of self-reflection and sacrificial giving and prayer that we make our way through the over busy-ness and the messiness of our lives. We let go of defending ourselves. We let go of our self-loathing. We cut through our arrogance and certainty and cynicism and ambivalence.
What’s so wonderful about Ash Wednesday and Lent is that through being marked with the cross and reminded of our own mortality, we grow further into the freedom for which God created us. We’re reminded that the same God who created us from the very earth to which we will return delights in us and loves us in all our broken beauty.
In the season of Lent, we are invited to return to God with all our hearts…to remember that God is more amazingly gracious and merciful than we can imagine. We are invited to remember who we are and whose we are.
Lent invites us into the paschal mystery—to renew our discipleship, our life in Christ. The season invites us to live out our baptism—to turn away from sin and to turn to the abundant way of life God offers us through Jesus Christ.
As we receive the ashes and hear the promise that you are dust and to dust you shall return, know that it is the truth. Know that this truth can set you free to live in the awareness of our mortality and our beloved-ness… and let us turn to live our lives in the light of that truth and love.
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
March 6, 2019