Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite liturgical holidays. Maybe it's because the corporate world hasn't found a way to squeeze greeting cards, furniture sales, and faux controversy ("keep the Christ in Christmas") out of it. Or maybe it's for the same reason one of my seminary professors talked about existentialists loving Fall "because of all this beautiful death around us".

Actually, the reason I love Ash Wednesday is how its symbols remind us of the cyclical nature of the liturgical calendar, and more broadly, the impermanence of life. Each year, we save the palm fronds from Palm Sunday, let them dry for eleven months, and then burn them to make the ashes we use to mark the beginning of another Lent. As bright and colorful as those palm fronds were last year, and as great as the children's procession into the sanctuary with them was, they end up dry and brittle, and one small spark turns them into a thick, black, ashy dust.

"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return..."

Last year, Ash Wednesday took on a new significance for me because it was the first time I put ashes on my daughter's forehead. She was just a few weeks old at the time, and was asleep when I did it, but it was still very sobering to think that even Kate, that energetic little girl with her whole life ahead of her, is just as mortal as any of us.

That lesson was brought back to me again this year, because she's now so mobile and active like a big person, and she was awake and looking at me curiously, wondering why I was smearing something on her when that's usually her job, and I'm the one always cleaning her off! She, too, will one day shuffle off his moral coil, though I pray that it's long after Jessica and I are gone.

I think our congregation was also much more aware of the impermanence of life this year. Our beautiful, historic church building was reduced to ashes, to dust it returned. Before we cleaned up the site, I went and collected some of the ashes in a jar, and I mixed them with the palm fronds this year. It served as a reminder to all of us that despite all the time and energy we're putting into the new building, one day it, too, will return to dust, as will we all.


Melody said...

Really neat insights here in relation to your church. I'm sorry ya'll experienced that but sort of neat that you are willing to look at it the way you are with Lent at hand. I hate to admit it here but our background is baptist and therefore lent was never observed in our church tradition (that's the part I hate to admit....not that we grew up a certain denom) Last year was the first year, as a church body and families, we studied and observed Lent...WOW! What an awesome time that was for us. We were in a church plant at that time with some former episcopal and catholic members who helped us understand liturgy more. My husband really enjoyed incorporating some aspects of literguy as a part of our corporate time of worship and we all really loved it.

Anonymous said...

good thought man...
"" Remember u are dust and to dust u shall return"""
this saying is 100% correct and has been reflected in many of ancient indian scriptures....