It’s been a year.
I didn’t grow up in a faith tradition that even acknowledged Ash Wednesday. (That was for those “liberal” mainline churches.) When my husband began pastoring, he began adding select services from the liturgical calendar to our church’s calendar. But even when we held an Ash Wednesday service, it never included ashes.
This year, I’m thinking I want ashes.
Somehow, “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” feels appropriate when we are witnessing war. It feels appropriate for me as I mourn the passing of a beloved brother. It feels appropriate as we see natural destruction often brought on by human negligence. It feels appropriate as we see people who claim the name of Christ do their best to murder the reputation of other believers on social media because they disagree.
Life is hard. We are weak. We will die.
Rich Villodas says in “The Wisdom of Ashes: Understanding Ash Wednesday,” posted in the Missio Alliance writing collectives:
“The ashes also represent our weakness, humanity and the fragility of life. We are human and not God. Therefore, we are given an opportunity to recognize our limitations and choose to not live with the guilt of being human. Ash Wednesday is not a day to live in guilt. It’s a day to recognize our brokenness, humanity and trust in God’s love. It’s a day to freely come before God and declare, ‘I am human, I am dust, and you still love me.'”
“I am human, I am dust, and you still love me.”
There is great comfort in that fact. It tells me I cannot fix every problem, remove every grief, right every wrong. It reminds me that God is who I rely on. I sit before him, overwhelmed by the grief in the world and the grief in my own life, and thank him that, as Hannah says in her prayer in I Samuel 2:
“There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.”
And then I ask him where he wants me to bind up some wounds.
How does he desire me on this day to live out Micah 6:8:
To do justice
To love mercy
To walk humbly with my God.
Villodas goes on to declare that because Ash Wednesday starts “a season that takes us into the land of resurrection . . . Ash Wednesday points us not to a despairing of death, but to the death of despair.” Grieve, yes, but not as those without hope. We have a Rock, a living hope. We can embrace the power of the resurrection and choose to bring pockets of hope to our world as we live in step with the Spirit.
I think I’ll be searching out a local church for ashes on Wednesday, and I’ll use them to remind myself and others that, though we are weak and frail, mere dust, we serve a risen Savior.