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Archive for February 17th, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote, “Our baptisms are our ordinations, the moments at which we are set apart as God’s people to share Christ’s ministry…the instant we rise dripping from the waters of baptism and the sign of the cross is made upon our foreheads, we are marked as Christ’s own forever.  I have often wondered whether the church would be even smaller than it is if that cross were made not with water but with permanent ink—a nice deep purple, perhaps—so that all who bore Christ’s mark bore it openly, visibly, for the rest of their lives.”[1]

Today, on Ash Wednesday, I will trace the invisible sign of the cross on my congregants’ foreheads with a very visible, dark ash.  We will leave the sanctuary with dirt on our foreheads and risk people noticing the fact that there is something different about us.  Perhaps we will meet someone after worship and they will glance at our foreheads with a question in their eyes.  Will he or she be so bold as to ask?  Or will I offer an explanation before he or she can get the question out?  “I just came from church.  It’s Ash Wednesday.  The day we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.”

It’s good for us to have to explain.  It’s good for us to be so visible.

Our Ash Wednesday service is always a hard one for me to get through without crying.  How can you not cry when you touch the forehead of a parishioner you love, or of your husband, or of your 2-year-old son, and say the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return?”  I don’t want to face their mortality.  I don’t want to think about all of these people whom I love dying.  But it certainly does bring things into perspective.  It certainly does make me want to go home and cherish every moment of every day I have with them.  And it certainly does make me praise the God who formed them from the dust of the earth and brought them into life.

May our great God of grace be with you on this Ash Wednesday.


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, Cowley Publications, Boston, MA, 1993, pgs. 29-30.

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