What is the meaning and purpose of Ash Wednesday?
Wednesday is a wake-up call. Ash Wednesday hits us squarely
between the eyes, forcing us to face mortality
and sinfulness. We hear Scripture readings that are urgent and vivid. We have
black ashes rubbed into our foreheads. We recite a Litany of
Penitence that takes our breath away, or should. It is a tough
day, but take heart! This is one religious day that won’t
fall into the clutches of retailers. There aren’t any
Hallmark cards celebrating sin and death; no shop windows are
with sackcloth and ashes.
Ash Wednesday we come to church to kneel, to pray, and to ask
God’s forgiveness, surrounded by other sinners. Human sin
is universal; we all do it, not only Christians. But our church
tradition sets aside Ash Wednesday as a particular day to address
sin and death. We do this mindful that "God hates nothing
God has made and forgives the sins of all who are penitent." We
are ALL sinners, no better and no worse than our brothers and
sisters. This is not a day to compete ("my sins are worse than
are"), but to confess….
Ash Wednesday is the gateway to Lent. We
have forty precious days to open ourselves up most particularly
in the presence of one who created us, knows us, and loves
us. We have forty days to face ourselves and learn to not be afraid
of our sinfulness. We are dust, and to dust
we shall return, but with God’s grace we can learn to
live this life more fully, embracing our sinfulness, allowing
God to transform us.
Rev. Margaret Jones
is about mortality and transformation. We begin the season
of Lent on
Ash Wednesday with the sign of the cross smeared on
our foreheads with ashes as the words are spoken over us, "Dust
thou art, and to dust thou wilt return." We begin this season
of Lent not only reminded of our death, but also marked for death.
Lenten journey, with its climax in Holy Week and Good Friday
and Easter, is about participating in the death and resurrection
of Jesus. Put somewhat abstractly, this means dying to an old
identity conferred by culture, by tradition, by parents, perhaps—and
being born into a new identity—an identity centered in
the Spirit of God. It means dying to an old way of being, and
being born into a new way of being, a way of
once again in God.
slightly more concretely, this path
of death and resurrection, of radical centering in God,
for some of us that we
need to die to specific things in our lives—perhaps
to a behavior or
a pattern of behavior that has become destructive or dysfunctional;
perhaps to a relationship that has ended or gone bad; perhaps
to an unresolved grief that needs to be let go of; perhaps
to a career or job that has either been taken from us or
that no longer nourishes us; or perhaps even we need to die
in our lives.
can even die to deadness, and this dying is also oftentimes
a daily rhythm in our lives—that daily
occurrence that happens
to some of us as we remind ourselves of the reality of
God in our relationship to God; that reminder that can
out of ourselves,
lift us out of our confinement, take away our feeling of
being burdened and weighed down.
the first focal point of a life that takes Jesus seriously:
in the Spirit
of God that is at the very center of the Christian life.
from “Taking Jesus
Wednesday [is] the beginning of Lent. And the church does
a strange thing on this day. For those who desire it, we
ashes on their foreheads as we say, "Remember that you
are dust and to dust you shall return." Sounds like the
ultimate reductionist view: Humanity is nothing but dust. So
what is the
insight here, and what more is there to say?…
is nothing pretty about dust.…To call someone dust
in any other context would be fightin' words. Don't call me
dirt. So why do we do this strange thing on this day. Remember,
are nothing but dust. What is this about?
this day reminds us of our creation. From Genesis 2, the
creation story in Genesis:
the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,
when no plant of the field had yet sprung up—for
the Lord God
had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there
was no one
to till the ground... then the Lord God formed man
from the dust
of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath
of life and
the man became a living being.
is the material of a beloved creation. We cannot—must
not—despise this loving work….
Remember that you are dust. You
are not worth much as a commodity, but you are loved,
shaped, molded, caressed, nurtured by the Loving
made the stars and the moon, all the creatures
of this world. Remember you
are dust—precious, precious dust.
this day reminds us of our mortality. "Dust
your are and to dust you shall return."
I am reminded
of the words from the burial office, "We commit
this body to its final resting place, earth to earth, ashes to
ashes, dust to dust."
It's not morbid to think about death; it's just the reality we
all face. Death is the great equalizer. In death there are no presidents
of corporations, no deans of universities, no lowly janitors, no
prisoners, no homeless on the street, no rich folks, no poor folks.
All of us are in the hands of the loving God—that's it. The
trinkets of honor and position—dust and ashes. The shame from
others' judgments—dust and ashes. When we remember, to dust
you shall return, we remember that we are made for more than trinkets
or shame. We are made for life with God - now and forever.
to dust you shall return." Ash
Wednesday reminds us that we are mortal, and in so doing confronts
us with a simple
question: We have only one life. How do we want to spend it?
when we understand how precious we are to the One who created
us from dust, and when we understand that we are made not just
for this life but for eternity with God, then we can be free. Freedom—personal freedom—comes
from knowing who we are and where we
are going. We are free from being affected by other people's
judgment of us.
know, it doesn't matter who you are, others can find
fault. If you work hard, people will say you're uptight. If
you enjoy life, people will say you're lazy. If you're wealthy,
will think you used and abused others to become rich. If you're
poor, people will look down on you, pity you, and assume you
It doesn't matter who you are, people can always find fault;
they can always find a way to put you down….
deep truth of Ash Wednesday —all those judgments do
are human beings, dust, beloved of God; we—each one of
ultimate worth….We are created for eternity!
What is someone's criticism compared to that? We are free, free
of others' judgment.…
spend so much energy on things that don't matter: how we look—what people think of us—what we have or what others have— if we will get a promotion—whose sports team is going
win. We spend so much energy on things that don't matter.…
of course, is why Lent is a period of self-examination and penance. We
need to stop and look at our lives—remember what
we are made of, remember where we are going—and let go
of all those things that don't really matter, all those things
in the way of loving God, loving others, and being loved by God
and by others.
you are nothing but dust: Precious dust, molded and formed in
the womb by a loving God, precious, precious
and beloved are
Remember, you are nothing but dust, and to dust shall you return:
Unique and precious, you are created for eternity.
Remember, you are nothing but dust: And that makes you free—free from human ambition—free from prideful denial —free from
fear—free; free at last!
Remember, Dust you are, and as dust you are loved and free.
Very Rev. Ward B. Ewing
from “The Freedom of Being Dust”