2 March 2017

Remember Your Death

Yesterday evening I attended an Ash Wednesday service.  The palm branches that the church had waved last year on Palm Sunday to praise and celebrate Jesus as he entered Jerusalem a week before Easter had dried out over the year and were now burned to a fine ash.

People lined up, down the aisle of the sanctuary, waiting for the minister to mark their foreheads with the ashes in the sign of a cross with the words that echo the funeral liturgy, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."  Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.

As I sat there, watching people of all ages come forward, I was reflecting that Ash Wednesday is possibly the most counter-cultural ritual that the church enacts.  It is already counter-cultural to be a follower of Jesus Christ, to proclaim that there is a different narrative than the one that the world presents.  And here, in the middle of a death-defying, death-denying culture, people were lining up to be reminded of their own mortality.  "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Later in the service as I was helping to serve communion, I was standing at the front of the church holding the cup as people lined up to come forward again, each person with the mark of ashes on their forehead.  Again, I was reflecting, as people took the bread and heard the words, "the body of Christ, broken for you," then dipped the bread in the cup with the words, "the cup of the new covenant, poured out for you."  We are all connected by our mortality.  This human flesh that is given to us to possess is a time-limited gift.  We will all die, as the ashes reminded us.  But we are connected by more than that.  Through our baptism, we are joined with Christ - we participate in Christ's life and death and resurrection.  Though we will die, in Christ we will live.  This is the promise of the new covenant.

God was present.  It was a holy moment.