February 14, 2018 (Ash Wednesday)

Ash Wednesday Year B 2018

Today you will hear the words that God spoke in the Garden, “you are dust and to dust you shall return,” as you are marked with the sign of the cross with ashes made from the palm branches you carried in procession at last year’s Palm Sunday service mixed with holy oil used at your baptism. The ashes remind us of our mortality – “earth to earth, ashes to ashes,” said at our burial, and the holy oil, imposed at our baptism as a seal of God’s creative and redeeming work in our lives. This service remind us of the faulty notion that human beings can find their completion in themselves without a spiritual life rooted in God.

These ashes proclaim to us God’s ability to heal the brokenness in our lives when we offer that brokenness to God. Our turning to God is the work of Lent, preparing ourselves for the celebration of the great paschal feast of Easter. But first we travel with Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem as he shows us that the way of life is the way of the cross. Lent is a time for us to quiet our hearts and lives, to take time for silence and reflection, to listen again for the Spirit’s call to God’s redeeming work in our lives.

Ash Wednesday, Lent. Holy Week and Easter itself are about following Jesus on the path that leads through death to resurrection. They are about dying and rising with Christ. We are to follow him to Jerusalem, the place of his passion, death and resurrection. That is what the journey of Lent is about. 

That journey intrinsically involves repentance. But repentance is not primarily about feeling guilty about our sins. The biblical meanings of repenting are primarily twofold. On the one hand, it means to “return” to God, to “reconnect” with God. On the other, it means “to go beyond the mind that we have” – minds shaped by our society and culture. 

The result: dying to an old way of seeing and being and living, and being raised into a new way of seeing and being and living, a new identity in Christ. Ash Wednesday is the annual ritual enactment of the beginning of that journey.

Nadia Bolz Weber has written in her book Accidental Saints:

Here’s my image of Ash Wednesday: If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and we don’t know the distance between the two, then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and the ends are held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. The water and words from our baptism plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the past and future to meet us in the present. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God: That we are God’s, that there is no sin, no darkness, and yes, no grave that God will not come to find us in and love us back to life. That where two or more are gathered, Christ is with us. These promises outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time.

So welcome to this 40 day journey the Church calls Lent. If you follow it, you just might find that it leads to new life!