I love the rich breadth of Christianity, which means I am open to “new” ways of experiencing community with fellow believers. Observing Ash Wednesday (this year it is on March 5) is an old practice for believers around the world but fairly new to most Baptists. For the last several years we have held an Ash Wednesday service and the have been some of the most memorable and poignant services of the year.
In fact, the ashes we use are compliments of our sister congregation, The Church of the Good Shepherd. The first year we hosted the Ash Wednesday service the thoughtful chair of the altar guild offered to give me a can of ashes, saving me the trouble of burning, sifting and mixing the ash mixture. She had the prepared ashes waiting for me at their church.
When I arrived to pick up the can (formally cashews, which I am sure was a surprise for anybody reaching in for a few nuts). On the lid of the can was written: Ashes – Greg DeLoach (he is not in here). This is an important disclaimer of which I am happy to confirm.
Yet is this not what Ash Wednesday is about? – a time to reflect on our own mortality as well as repentance. Philosophers have long exclaimed that the way to prepare for life is to contemplate death. Morbid? I don’t think so. Often Jesus spoke of the need to release one’s life (which is in itself an enormous act of faith) in order to gain it (Matthew 10:7; 16:25). Furthermore Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the deadly timbers of the cross.
We are surrounded by silly symbols of our anxieties that oftentimes are manifested in over-consumption and violence. Yet we are all, in the end, destined to be no more than a can of ashes on this earth. Ash Wednesday and Lent call on us to ignore the anxious voices that cannot believe in anything but the self, and listen to the voice of the One, who out of dust, breathed in each the breath of life. There will come a day when our breath returns to the Creator.
Finally the ashes that mark us on Ash Wednesday are an invitation to follow. For me this season is an important reminder that whatever it is I face or will face in my life – and one can scarcely imagine what awaits us in our lifetime – its scope does not exceed the reach of God. I do not know how I will face all that confronts me, but then again that is not my primary concern. I am called to follow on this journey.
I am blessed to join with you in the journey too. Please, if you can, join with the church family tonight to pray, reflect and be marked to follow. “…you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) First Baptist Church of Augusta will be observing this service at 6:15 PM in our sanctuary. There we begin the time of waiting and following to the cross, the grave, and blessed Easter morning.