Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Sackcloth and Ashes

Last Wednesday we gathered and had the sign of the cross marked on our foreheads. This dusty ashen cross reminds us that "we are dust and to dust we shall return." This dusty ashen cross is also a reminder that we are sinners, in need of God's grace much like Jonah and his people from Jonah 3:1-10; the recommended text reading from the Slate Project's Lenten devotional.

As I marked the sign of the cross on individual's foreheads, it quickly became apparent how fast the ashes spread. I started with a small speck on my finger, but by the time everyone came to me, my finger and some parts of my hand were completely covered in ash. Ash is stubborn too. It doesn't wash off easily but lingers until you scrub it off.

And then today, as I read the text from Jonah, I can't help but picture Jonah, covered in sackcloth, sitting in that heap of ash. By the time, he got up I am sure Jonah was covered from head to toe in ash. Another reminder of how ash reminds us that "We are dust and to dust we shall return." Like the people of Nineveh, we constantly make mistakes as we are indeed sinners.

Yet ash is also a reminder that we are not on this journey of faith alone. A dusty ashen cross for all the world.

A dusty ashen cross placed on the foreheads of all those who daily struggle with depression, anxiety or a mental illness. This dusty ashen cross is a sign that these individuals are never alone.

A dusty ashen cross placed on the foreheads of those who are often seen as those on the margins. This dusty ashen cross is  a sign that God walks with them and pulls up a seat at the table for each of them.

A dusty ashen cross placed on the foreheads of the little ones in our midst. This dusty ashen cross is a sign that sometimes death comes way to soon. This dusty ashen cross reminds me of Alexander Scott and Kaia Gene and so many other beloved children of God.

A dusty ashen cross placed on the foreheads of those who a year from now may not be with us. This dusty ashen cross reminds us again of their mortality. 

But most of all our dusty ashen crosses remind us that life not death and light not darkness has the final word. I will close with a poem I penned last Wednesday after our noon Ash Wednesday service. 

Our Dusty Ashen Crosses
By Tara L. Ulrich
(Written 3-1-17)
The weight of the world
Relentlessly
Weighs on my shoulders.
So much brokenness and heartache.

A smudgy ashen cross
Placed on our foreheads
A sign of our own mortality

"Remember you are dust,
And to dust you shall return."
An imperfect reflection
That this ashen cross
And these 40 days
Leading to the cross
Matters.
A love embodied
In this dusty cross
A sign that we are linked
Imperfectly as the body of Christ.
In the darkness and imperfections
Of our ashen crosses,
We journey to the cross
Where we finally see
That life not death
Light not darkness

I am linking up with Holley and Coffee for your Heart and Kristin and Three Word Wednesday.

 

10 comments:

  1. Thought-provoking as usual. Thanks.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Ash Wednesday and Lent. Lovely reflection and poetry.

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  3. wow, this is so thoughtful, beautiful, and true! A few years ago when I was reasonably active at north minster, the interim pastor suggested we go to bed and sleep still wearing our ashes, so the reality of death and hope resurrection would zap us when we looked in the mirror the next morning! Hard to scrub off, for sure...

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  4. Good stuff, Tara. I definitely see the symbolism of how the ashes are hard to remove and leave a trail. That's how our faith should be too. So glad we aren't in this journey alone.

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    1. Thanks Kristin! I too am glad we aren't on this journey alone!

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  5. Wonderful thoughts, Tara. And I really appreciate the poem as well.

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