We come this morning –
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord – open up a window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this morning. (James Weldon Johnson)
Listen, I’m telling you a secret: all of us won’t die, but we will all be changed— in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the final trumpet. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; context)
This Lent, we are exploring our faith by running through the alphabet. Today, “A” is for ashes.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” the priest says as he or she scrapes two lines of grit on the forehead. Two lines of soot, of the debris that’s left after the fire is gone. Now, the fire consumes, but it does not annihilate. The fire converts the material fuel into energy and burns with heat and light. When it dies out, the ash remains. The ash is the remnant of the material, the leftover stuff that did not change from matter into energy.
This is the symbol of the beginning of Lent, the season in which we recall all the ways we have fallen short of our callings as human beings, in which we recall why we need Christ in the first place. The two lines of ash make a cross, a device of torture and death that Christ changed into a symbol of hope and life. The keyword here is change.
The fire changes the fuel into energy and leaves the ashes. We take those ashes and make the sign of the cross on our foreheads. In the same way, walking with Christ changes us. We burn with the light of Christ. We burn with the energy that Jesus infuses into our lives. This burning separates all the pieces of us that God can use from the ash of selfishness, pride, and domination. Through the mercy and grace of God, as we burn, we leave behind this ash and we are changed.
Dear God, you provide the spark that gets our fires going. Help me to burn brightly for you and to participate with you in the removing of the ash from my life. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen.
I leave this moment with you, God, taking hope in the overarching reality that you are the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
One thought on ““A” is for Ashes (February 13, 2013)”
A perspective from a Christian in her mid- 60’s … ordinarily as Lent begins I think of another beginning, another opportunity to get back on track and also to add a goal to facilitate Easter re-birth within me. This year as I read the word “ashes” I thought about it in the sense of rubble, that which is left behind after destruction. Kind of like what folks are sifting through after hurricanes and snow storms and earthquakes and such. Compared to my Christian memories of life in the 50’s, 60’s, and into the 70’s, Christianity as the bedrock of our society is pretty much in ashes. I think of a recent picture of Jesus hanging in a school for decades now considered undesirable and not too many people willing to fight hard to keep it … kind of symbollic of the role our faith used to have … sort of like the way ashes are no longer “embers” capable of again spurring fire, but simply the gray powerless powder of remembered hopes. The thing about Ash Wednesday ashes is they are usually not gray but black … a substance created on purpose from last year’s palms with the intention they will set a spark to ignite interior preparation. As ashes are imparted, yes, we are reminded of who we are … but we are also reminded of what we can be.