Ash Wednesday is not normally part of the Baptist tradition and it is beautiful to see these distinct branches of the Christian tree come together for a common purpose. For this ‘liturgically challenged’ Baptist, my spiritual imagination has been enriched and expanded by the addition of Ash Wednesday. In my previous setting, we shared this ritual with a Roman Catholic congregation and now with an Episcopal church.
For this ritual, ashes are placed on the forehead in the shape of the cross. The ashes are presented with these words, “Repent and believe in the Good News”. It is a truly intimate act to look someone in the eyes, offering ancient words of repentance, as you smudge their forehead with ashes. You can’t avert your eyes, you can’t deny your vulnerability.
In our highly individualistic, youth oriented culture, Ash Wednesday is profoundly counter cultural. This ritual reminds us that we come from dust and to dust we will return. The placing of the ashes on the forehead is a ‘in your face’ reminder that the illusion of our immortality is just that, an illusion.
There is something strangely reassuring in acknowledging ones mortality. Something even joyful. Rather than being a morbid ritual, Ash Wednesday reminds us to savor the gift of life, to remember that it is fleeting and that one day each of us will return to our Creator, the source of all that is good, lasting and true.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.