Ashes. A campfire smoldering the morning after. A clogged chimney. What remains after a house has burned to the ground. The remnants of a volcano eruption, a wildfire in the western forests.
Dust. The stuff that violently churns during a desert wind storm. The particles that settle on the windowsills and picture frames in the house. What flies around in the attic, hazing the rays of sun through the only window.
Since last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, I have been pondering what ashes and dust mean for us, daily, in this season of Lent.
I don’t know the man that marked my forehead at church last Wednesday morning, but I felt connected to him in that moment as he spoke the words over me, “Remember that from ashes you came and to ashes you will return.” The humanity in that moment is so blatant and powerful. Person looking at person, the ashes of something that once was now being spread on my forehead by the hands of a mortal human, onto the flesh of my forehead. Each time I looked in the mirror on Ash Wednesday I was provided with a reminder of my limited ability and time here on earth.
I do know the four people that have served communion to me the past two Fridays during our chapel services at the seminary. As with the man on Ash Wednesday, and even more so, these Eucharist moments have moved me and brought me to near tears, looking into the eyes of four of my friends as they speak to me, “This is body of Christ, broken for you. This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.” Their hands holding the bread and the cup, a physical, tangible reminder of humanity, of Christ’s time in a body, like us, experiencing pain and emotion and physical interaction with others and with creation, experiencing death.
I read the following call and response yesterday morning in Common Prayer:
“You take dry bones and clothe them with bodies : create a church from those who are dead.”
The ashes, the bread, the wine, all call us into the creation of Christ’s living church. Not just those of us who are physically present, but those whose ashes have already been spread and smeared in corners of the world. Ashes and dust not only reveal death to us, they promise the life that has been offered to us in Christ. Though they aren’t marked on our foreheads each day of Lent, we see ashes here and there every day. The ashes are with us. We breath them in and through them, through Christ, we have life.
Breath deep the ashes of the Living God.