Minister’s forum: Remember the words on Ash Wednesday
March 6, 2006
As we begin this Lenten season, we again come together as the people of God to face the reality of our mortality. I realize that Ash Wednesday has come and gone but when we receive the cross of ashes on our foreheads and hear the words: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” we are literally being reminded that one day we will fall down – we will die.
I realize that what I just said sounded rather morbid, but the reality is most of us live as if we will never die. The ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us that we are mortal – we will die. However, the ashes placed on our foreheads are in the shape of a cross. The cross of ashes reminds us that even though we may die, death is not the victor. The symbol of the cross on our foreheads proclaims that God has acted on our behalf. The symbol of the cross proclaims that God in Christ allowed death to swallow Him up only to be destroyed by Jesus.
“Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return” is not a morbid reminder of our mortality, it is a triumphant proclamation that Jesus is the victor over death. Because of Easter, because of the resurrection, Life follows this life.
And so, as we “ring around” word and sacrament this Lenten season, we hear two sets of words.
1. First, we hear the words that remind us that on our own we are ashes, we are dust, we don’t have power over death, we don’t have the strength to “get up” again. Sin has left us powerless. We need help. We need Someone to raise us up.
2. Secondly, in these words we hear a word of hope – beyond these ashes there is new life. Jesus came to rescue us from death’s cold grip. Jesus came to “raise us up.” Jesus came to grant us new life.
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My friends, this Lenten season you will have hear two sets of words: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” as well as “The body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin.” Hear these words and rejoice, for there is life in Christ Jesus, and forgiveness of all your sins.
-Joel Martyn is pastor at Hope Lutheran Church of the Sierra.