Ash Wednesday

Traditionally Ash Wednesday is a difficult service, and hard for clergy. Not because there is a lot of prep. Heck, given that I try and ensure the service is only 30 minutes long these days so folks can attend on their lunch-hour, well, there’s no time to preach! But it is hard to have people you care about come forward and tell them “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” That’s the primary message of Ash Wednesday – not that we are sinful, but that we shall die. And that’s the perspective we need to bring into Lent…

Our Lenten disciplines are not meant to be simply ‘mea culpa’, beating our breasts and crawling on our knees. Given this awareness that we are mortal, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (poet Mary Oliver) Last Sunday we talked about how our Lenten disciplines are meant to help us hang onto the glimpses we have had of G-d, of the sacred. I think that is also connected to ensuring we make the most of this life we have been given.

When you hear those words at our service today, when you receive the ashes on your forehead, hear the reminder of your own mortality, and be chastened. But then take that awareness and truly live! Know that your life is a gift from G-d to you and also to the world. What do you need to do this Lent in order for that truth to be realised?



3 comments on “Ash Wednesday

  1. Dawn says:

    Due to crazy nursing-clinical schedule, I did not manage to make an Ash Wednesday service. However, due to nursing Palliative care placement I am faced with mortality at least once a week.

    Everyone will die. Everyone will be reduced to dust. I will someday be dust. But to sit with mortality, to sit with the dying and hold their hands is quite a different proposition.

    After reading this post, could we take lenten disciplines as a symbolic “death”? Lent is traditionally a time of fasting, whereas feasting (and generally eating, drinking and being merry are generally non-dead types of life affirming activities for people especially when they are grieving. Deny yourself pleasures (things that dead people cannot partake in by virtue of being dead) as a symbolic sort of death?

    Or maybe I’ve just been up since 5am.

  2. Dawn – I like the idea of seeing the Lenten disciplines as a symbolic ‘death’ – and a way of reminding ourselves we do die. I assume from your post too that this would then give a renewed appreciation of the gift of life and all that it contains?

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