I have been reflecting/ruminating, this Ash Wednesday evening, on the tradition in the Western Church of inscribing the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the faithful with ashes.
What does it mean to me? During the course of the day, the following associations occurred to me:
- The profound identification/connection it proclaims with the other two impositions that occur over the course of our life of discipleship – baptismal chrism and anointing for healing.
- The profound identification/solidarity with the men and women of the Old and New Covenants who have used ashes as a sign of their repentance in hope.
- The ashen remains of the triumphant but not kept proclamations of faithfulness to the end from Palm Sunday last year that I am exhorted to acknowledge in the presence of a “good and loving God.” Looking back with honest in the embrace of such a God is life-giving and freeing not life-ending and condemning. So looking back in that way is looking forward in truth.
- My forehead (my life) as the place where God desires for the apocalyptic battle to occur between the His victorious cross and sin and death in this world. After all, the face is the outward and visible statement of our identity.
- The reminder that I am created – made from the dust – and that my salvation is a matter of my physical existence not just my spiritual existence. God loves His creation (me/you) and I will continue, for eternity, to be made of dust. What is more, He loves me enough to continue to breath into it His own life so that I am not “just dust”; and that “… and to dust you shall return” will not be followed by a period but a comma.
What meaningful associations did the ceremony provide for you? My prayer is that if you did attend an Ash Wednesday service and receive the ashes that it was a significant action instead of another empty ritual that will just turn into more ashes!