First, a story.
The first time I came to an Ash Wednesday service – in a time when churches were still very clear as to what the not-yet-baptized could participate in – I hadn’t thought to ask beforehand if I could receive the ashes. So I rather uneasily followed the line forward, and the Rector paused, hesitated, when I got to him, then gave me a blessing instead.
He found me, immediately after the service ended. Deeply concerned, afraid that I might have been offended. Saying that, when it came down to it, he couldn’t bring himself to give me the ashes, knowing that I hadn’t yet received the Promise. It made no sense to me, but I stored it away, as I did so much else during that year, knowing that it would be important. Someday.
Twenty-some years later, when a good friend who’d been living with me while fighting cancer knew that she had only a few months left to live, she chose not to celebrate Lent. She needed, she said, to spend whatever time she had left celebrating Easter, Resurrection, with all her heart. When I said I wanted to go to the Ash Wednesday service anyway, she was upset, maybe even feeling a bit betrayed, and asked “Why?”
And then I knew. We go to Ash Wednesday and to Good Friday, because it is in receiving the ashes, reliving the descent into darkness, we most deeply affirm that we have received the Promise. It is in going boldly into darkness that we know, with every fiber of our being, that death never conquers. Life has triumphed over death. Even though we die, even though all we love is destroyed, yet we live in the Resurrection.
And so, we pray.
We pray, not just with our lips, and our hearts, and our minds, but with our whole beings filled with the Promise. Holding out the assurance that the Promise was made for all, for those who know it, and those who do not. Holding out the assurance that death is not the end, that Love will come again, that Light will spring out of darkness.
We pray that Promise, with every fiber of our being, for those in:
- South Sudan
- Central African Republic
- North Korea
And for all in turmoil, fear, or despair from violence, wars, drought, flooding, famine.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, star dust to star dust, light into Light:
We pray the Promise.