Today is Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and repentance that begins the Christian season of Lent. Very early this morning (a freakishly cold one for Memphis in March), I donned my clerical garb, grabbed my long wool coat and scarf, and stood outside our Chapel with a parishioner, to offer ashes and hot coffee to the world.
It’s very powerful to trace a cross in ashes on someone’s forehead and say, “From dust you are created, and to dust you shall return.” We’re mindful of our mortality; our impermanence; our fragile existence. We are wonderfully made by an imaginative God who understands that Creation has its season. Endings bring new beginnings. From the dust of the earth, new life will spring.
Receiving ashes is life-giving because it reminds us that as Christians, our foreheads were marked by this same cross with water, oil and the Holy Spirit, in the holy sacrament of baptism. We have been claimed and marked by God with the cross of the crucified Jesus Christ, who will never abandon us; who will always embrace us in love and mercy; and who walks beside us, even when we leave this life and return to the dust of the earth. Creation changes, but lives on.
Some of my pastor colleagues in the ELCA and across various denominations decry the ‘evil’ of offering Drive-Thru Ashes & A Cuppa Joe to Go. They claim it’s not liturgical; it’s not ‘church,’ or complain that this ‘ridiculous’ practice reduces ancient rite to a meaningless, consumeristic publicity stunt.
Perhaps. But Jesus didn’t sit inside a church, waiting for people to show up. He walked around, met people where they were, and invited them to join him on a faith journey. Jesus still meets us where we are, every day. On a cold morning, we marked people’s foreheads with ashes and blessed them, then sent them on their way with hot coffee and kindness. Many of them won’t be able to attend our Ash Wednesday worship services for various reasons, but they still participated in the Ash Wednesday ritual. They showed up and acknowledged their need for Christ’s mercy. They were welcomed and included by the Body of Christ, and to me, that’s what ‘church’ means. We may all be made of dust, but we are also loved, and we share love. Dust scatters; Love remains.
So what’s dust got to do with it? Everything, because dust is ‘us,’ and we are Love.
Peace to all here.