Ash Wednesday and a Reordering
An Ash Wednesday reflection by our Associate Conference Minister, originally published in the Coconut Wireless, March 2, 2022.
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return." These are powerful words that we hear every Ash Wednesday. And today as we observe Ash Wednesday and begin our pilgrimage into Lent, these words are more powerful for me than they have ever been. When I was a child, rituals, like the impositions of ashes, were more a curiosity than a meaningful experience of feeling the presence of God, but the more my faith grows, the more meaningful this simple Ash Wednesday Service becomes. When I was serving a local congregation, I was always careful to gather the unused palms fronds after Palm Sunday worship and leave them in my office to dry out. Then a little over 10 months later, a few days before the next Ash Wednesday, I would gather some of the congregation's children to help me burn those palm fronds to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday. Those were great experiences as we fed the fronds one by one into the flames and talked life and death and the meaning of everything that happens in between.
Ash Wednesday services most likely began during the sixth century in what is modern-day Spain. Today its practice has spread around the world and throughout many different Christian faith traditions. These ashes are a vivid reminder of our personal and corporate need for God. As we enter into Lent, Ash Wednesday provides us a twofold opportunity: to look back and to look forward; to evaluate what has passed and to prepare for what is to come. The ashes empower us to look back over the last year and over our lifetimes. John Climacus, a theologian who lived in the sixth century, explains "to repent is not to look downwards at your own shortcomings, but upwards at God's love. It is not to look backwards with self-reproach but forward with trustfulness. It is to see not what I have failed to be but what by the grace of Christ I might yet become."
The ashes on Ash Wednesday offer me an opportunity to consider my own mortality. They remind me that death is a certainty. I will die one day. But as I feel those ashes on my forehead, I am also reminded that I am not dead yet. I still have work to do, and the most important jobs before me are being a follower of Jesus the Christ, a husband, a father, and a son. I don't know about you, but I have always worked better with a deadline. Death is nothing to fear but considering death gives perspective to life. What by the grace of Christ might we yet become? "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return."
Jonathan Roach, Associate Conference Minister