These words echo through time as we receive the imposition of ashes upon our forehead. We are starkly reminded that we are indeed mortal. That Adam was made out of the earth, out of dust. Even the name Adam coming from the Hebrew adamah means soil, earth. We have been brought to life through the breath of God and we end our time here on this earth by returning to dust, returning to the soil. These words “that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” have even been said at the graveside of our loved ones. On Ash Wednesday we are confronted with reality and how we will die.
The imposition of ashes serves an additional role rooted in Israelite tradition. By ritually placing dust or ash on ourselves we acknowledge that we are sinners and need to repent. We lament that we are rebellious towards God and participate, contribute to this fragmented hurting world. In the wearing of ashes we identify ourselves as a broken people.
Yet in light of this brokenness and faced with our mortality we can have hope in the cross framed ash. The ash is not simply marked on your forehead but placed in the form of a cross. That same cross is made on our forehead when we are baptized and claimed as a beloved and forgiven child of God. Our sinfulness, the ash we carry is washed clean in the baptismal water.
Lent is a season of which we are unavoidably confronted with the darkness of life and the darkness within ourselves. It lasts forty days like that of the flood of Noah, Moses’ visit with God on Sinai, Elijah’s walk to the mountain of God and Jesus’ temptation in the dessert. Many have used Lent as a special season for special giving of alms in which one supports the outcasts, the poor and the disenfranchised. Some focus particularly on prayer while others fast from self-indulgences. Whether it is a fasting from technology or chocolate, the spiritual practice of fasting is a way to show solidarity for the poor, as a means of repentance or as a way to recognize the contrast between Lent and that of the bountiful Easter.
Although within the midst of the forty days of Lent there is the exception, Sunday. Sunday is our mini Easter that we celebrate weekly throughout the year. It is not traditionally considered or counted within the forty Lenten or fasting days but is instead the day in which the promise of life, resurrection, healing and wholeness break into the darkness.
This season, I invite you to take forty day where you take special care to focus on you and God. You may do that through alms giving or fasting or perhaps instead of giving up something you focus on the addition of another faith practice; for example, prayer or Bible studies. Use these forty days as a time to witness to how God is working in your life, wrestle with how you need God and reflect on the ash made cross we bear daily.