2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For God says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, right? What a wild and weird thing. Each year, we come to this place, to remember this phrase, to be blessed by this phrase, which is symbolized through a cross made with ashes placed on our foreheads. Theologically, this is a strange one, and it’s a concept that is tough to understand.
This morning, as Erich and I spent some time doing ashes to go, several kids came by with their families on the way to school. Luckily, we had anticipated this happening, and so ahead of time, I had to try and help myself understand Ash Wednesday through the lens of a young person, or someone who didn’t have a lot of background for why we do this ritual.
Today is Ash Wednesday, a day where we get to remember that we are human, and God is not. It’s a way to remind ourselves of both our sacredness, and also the limits we have that help encourage us to go to God in our times of need.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Each time a child would come by, I would let them know that Ash Wednesday was there for two reasons. The first is to remind us that God loves us. “Do you know that God loves you?”, I’d ask them. The second thing is that we get to go to God if we need help. “You are loved, and God is here to help you.”
Sometimes, we in the church can get really bogged down in the heaviness of our liturgical season, the things that can be confusing or hard to explain. There’s a place for that kind of tradition, and I want to encourage you, that it’s also okay to break it down into ways that are much simpler, much more distilled, than say a theology textbook might teach you.
Ash Wednesday is about holy contradiction. It’s a way of reminding us of both our own mortality, our own humanness, and also reminding us of just how awe-inspiring and beloved we are. We receive a cross on our foreheads with a blessing: “You are dust, and to dust you will return.” It’s as if to say, ‘Know that you are here for a reason, a holy reason. And know that you are a part of something bigger than your life here on earth. We can trust our own belovedness, and we also get to rely on God.
Today marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a season where we confront the limits of life, and the divinity of God. We know already, that Jesus will die, an act that reminds us of our own mortality. Then, Jesus will rise again, be resurrected, marking the ways our God is bigger than life and death.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Today, as we prepare to be imposed with ashes, I invite you to enter a time of holy contradiction, remembering these two things:
- You are loved, wholly and deeply beloved.
- God is here to help you. You are allowed to rely on God for help.
Friends, may you trust your own belovedness, created out of glittering stardust into beauty. And may you allow God to be God, trusting in God, even amidst contradiction, as we enter this Lenten season.