The reflection below was written by Patricia Hernandez, national director of Women in Ministry and Transition Ministries, ABCUSA. Blogs written by ABCUSA Leadership Team members will be published periodically on the website. (Interested in submiting a blog for publication? Email email@example.com.)
On the way home from a recent retreat, I stopped to pick up a new furnace filter, an antidote to the moans and groans of the furnace that my kids had reported while I was away.
After I picked up the filter and began to head out the door, the woman at the counter grabbed my arm, pulled me aside and solicitously whispered in my ear, “Do you know you have a grease spot on your forehead?” Confused at first, I suddenly remembered the service of communion and imposition of ashes with which we had ended the retreat. “Oh, that,” I responded. “It’s Ash Wednesday.”
“Ash Wednesday?” she asked. “Is that the ashes to ashes stuff?”
“Well,” I replied, “You’re dust and to dust you shall return” is often what is said.
“How depressing,” she said.
My first contact with Ash Wednesday was as a girl growing up in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood. All the Catholic kids got out of school early every Wednesday, which I thought was great and which prompted my sister to declare “I’m going to be a Catholic when I grow up!”
But one Wednesday when they returned, they had these ominous marks on their foreheads. “Just dust,” my best friend said. The priest said we were ‘just dust.’ Can you believe that?”
On Ash Wednesday, yes, we remember that we are dust, just dust.
And yes, that is depressing.
That’s the bad news of our mortality.
Especially in a society that wants to deny death with botox and BMWs.
But we also realize that we are far more than just dust.
Into this bit of dust, God blew the breath of life.
Without God, we are “just dust.”
With God through Christ we are dust justified.
It was after Adam had sinned that God said “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) But the first words of Jesus’ public ministry were “The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)
Thus while Ash Wednesday reminds us of our sin and mortality, it leads us ultimately to new life.
The palms that hail Christ as King are harbinger to the cross that hangs Christ as Savior but that holds us in forgiveness. Those burnt palm fronds that mark the sign of the cross on our foreheads mark too our baptism, when we died to our old life and were reborn into life abundant and new.
As I removed the caked and clogged furnace filter down in the dark and dank basement, replacing it with the new, I was reminded once again of my baptism and the rhythm of our faith.
And then I rose up the stairs into the light of a new day.
As we enter into the season of Lent, let’s enter into the rhythm of our faith.
“The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1:15)