There was this one guy who would always pass up on the ashes. “I’m not much of an ash guy,” he once said. It’s not that he was trying to avoid considering his personal mortality. He knew it was going to happen someday. It’s just…he thought it was too dismal…or something. That word that often comes up on Ash Wednesday when the Gospel is proclaimed: “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting” (Matthew 6:16). And it’s not that he thought the whole dusty-cross-on-the-forehead thing was too much “Look at me for sticking with the church tradition!” or the like. He was just…so Gospely…so filled with hope…so glass half-full when it came to his own faith journey and others around. He thought the whole “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return” was…well, rather depressing in a way. That the church should remain committed to the Gospel of hope and love and death-defying Resurrection.

And yes, there’s something to be said for that. Obviously, we’re gonna get to that big time in 40 days or so. The empty tomb will have its say not just on that Sunday, that Resurrection Day, but well…nearly every day in ministry operation. It is the very reason there is a church at all. It is the very empowerment of bringing the Gospel with all its hope and love and compassion to life. But with that word compassion, which often gets thrown around most days in being the church in the world and all, Ash Wednesday provides a rather holy opportunity.

After all, today or any day, for that matter, the church is not trying to help children of God avoid considering personal mortality. We know it’s going to happen. We can talk about heaven and eternal joy and God wiping away tears from Easter Sunday to the end of time, but we also need to give the space for those who might experience some…closer to dismal moments. We need to allow the open and honest expressions of those fears and worries. We need to recognize God’s love being just as strong for us in those parts of our faith journey, too.

More and more faith communities who offer that imposition of ashes will also provide the holy opportunity for Communion. And more and more faith communities combine those sacred encounters with the Divine in one trek up the sanctuary floor with the ultimate foundation of Jesus Christ who will always insist on lifting us up no matter what feelings and thoughts are rushing through our hearts and minds on any Ash Wednesday or any day. Yes, if you so choose, of course, you will be asked to remember the brittleness of life, but then you’ll be invited to taste and see the ultimate defiance of that seemingly dismal message. You will be reminded of the Resurrection with all its hope in the body and blood of Christ, who rushed into that death and came out with life. You will be reminded that that hope is not limited to the heavenly realm, either; that it’s meant to be experienced in this world, too. As if tremendous beauty can come in dustiness us. As if God can shape love to come to life from the very dust of the earth…from us. Amen (so let it be)!

In Christ,
Pastor Brad