Saturday, March 04, 2006

You were made from dust and to the dust you shall return…

Wednesday night I experienced my first Ash Wednesday from the perspective of a pastor. We did not have a formal service, but rather opened the church for an hour and a half and had written instructions to guide people through their time. Participants were guided through the significance of Ash Wednesday, asked to meditate on specific scriptures and asked to write out prayers of confession and thanksgiving. Near the end of their time, they would come to the front, take their piece of paper with their prayer/confession on it and light it on the Jesus candle. After they watched their prayer burn as a pleasing offering to the Lord, they received the ashes in the form of a cross on their forehead from either me or Pastor Tom. The service was beautiful.

And it was more beautiful being able to be up front the entire time, watching as person after person lit up their prayers and waited to receive the ashes. I felt closer to many of the members of the church than ever before. There was a sense of intimacy, mystery and awe in that place, and God was truly at work. It was powerful to hear and speak these words over and over, “You were made from dust and to the dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19b). Most often, we said a few words before and after, but always those words as we made the mark on people’s foreheads. It was a reminder of my own fallenness and depravity, as these words come from the text of the curse of Adam. I carry that curse with me today, just as Adam did so many years ago, and just as every person has who has lived between then and now.

Yet it seems impossible to sit with this curse for long, for we know that Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a journey; a long and arduous journey that will culminate in the cross, empty tomb, and the life everlasting. I feel energized by the Holy Spirit as I enter the Lenten season. As the weeks wear on, I may begin to feel the struggle, as it grows closer to the end, the bittersweet celebration of Palm Sunday and the near despair of Good Friday. But God, raise me up and raise your church up in the celebration which trumps all other celebrations: Easter—Resurrection Sunday.

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