Thursday, February 22, 2007

After the Ashes

Though it happens every year, I am still
surprised by how exhausted I feel - physically
and emotionally - the day after our Ash
Wednesday service.

Part of it may have to do with the fact that
the service itself is so different - more somber,
more silent, more reflective than the usual
Sunday morning service. It takes more effort
to create a 'mood' that seems so strange in
our culture, even in church! After all, to speak
the words, "You are dust and to dust you shall
return" is an extremely radical statement in a
world which worships youth, vitality, and
doing everything we can do to put off death.

I also find it a very moving, and draining,
experience to take the ashes and impose the
sign of the cross upon the people who come
forward for this ancient rite. Whether it is
a member of my own family, a little child who
probably never thinks of death, or the elderly
person whose funeral I may be doing in the
next few months, this very simple act changes
our relationship as pastor and as parishioner.
I see this in the tears which well up in their eyes,
and in the questions on their faces, and in the
piercing of my heart.

And because we have these emotions, these
questions, these hearts, we conclude the service
with the Lord's Supper. We do it, yes, because
our tradition 'allows' it to take place. But more,
we do it because we know that as we follow Jesus
during these days of Lent and beyond, we know that,
like him, we are walking towards our death and so
we need the nourishment of that Bread which will
strengthen us in the days to come. We do it because
we need that cup of Grace to fill us when the
temptations of the world empty our souls.

And we do it because the Table is that visible
reminder that when we do return to dust, we
will not be swept out the door, but will be welcomed
into God's embracing love.

(c) 2007 Thom M. Shuman

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