Ash Wednesday March 9, 2011

2 Corinthians 5:20b-21, 6:1-10                                       

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21                                                          

I’ve stuck in your bulletins this evening a copy of a little cartoon that Bishop Walmsley gave me on Sunday. It’s entitled, “The Rector responds to concern that Lent is a downer.” A priest is marking the cross of ashes on a kneeling parishioner’s forehead – as we will do in just a few minutes. She recites the words that I will recite, “Remember that you are dust,” but then she adds, “but a very high quality sort of dust.”

 This is funny, of course, because it points exactly to what Ash Wednesday reminds us of: we are dust and to dust we shall return, but not a higher or better or different kind of dust from any other dust. Just dust. That’s the point. Dust like all dust; dust like all matter.

The parish I served in St. Charles, Illinois, built a columbarium – a wall with niches for ashes – shortly after I arrived. One of the concerns in planning the columbarium was that the little bronze boxes into which the ashes would be put might not be big enough for a very large person. So we consulted the local funeral director. He informed us that the cremated remains of adults were all basically the same in amount, no matter the size of the person. A big person was simply more water. So we’re not even distinctive in that way. Just dust.

This Ash Wednesday reminder of our “dustiness” is important in several ways: First, it cuts us down to size; no matter how “big” we like to think we are, ashes-wise we’re just like everyone else and we’re going to end up just like everyone else. So this is an occasion to come to terms with those corners of our being that are hostage to pride, and to confess that pride and let it go. If you’re thinking of giving up something for Lent, consider giving up something that you’re particularly proud of, that you secretly compliment yourself on.

Second, Ash Wednesday’s reminder of our mortality underlines how important our life is, how important it is to take responsibility for our life and to live it as God intended.  We are dust, yes, but we are also alive on this earth. The dean of the seminary I attended, quoting a beer commercial of the time, liked to say that we “only go around once.” That once is important. We need to make it count. So if you’re thinking of taking on something for Lent, maybe you want to think of a something that will make a particular contribution to the betterment of the world.

And third, the ashes on our forehead remind us that it is in our very mortality that God loves us and is there for us. The ashes are not just a smudge; they’re a cross. They remind us that it was precisely in a death, a death on a cross, that God showed most deeply his identification with our mortality, his love for us as who we are. So if you’re thinking of trying to have some special prayer focus for Lent, I suggest you focus on the ways in which God loves you and is with you, ashes though you are.

So, then, suggestions for your Lenten discipline: Give up some source of pride. Take on something you can contribute to the world. Focus in your prayer on how God loves you. Lent is a wonderful time, really: forty days set aside for reflection, repentence and renewal. Here it is upon us, ready or not: “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”

0 Responses to “Ash Wednesday March 9, 2011”

Comments are currently closed.