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Getting Your Ash in Church Reminds You of What Matters

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Worship this past Wednesday night helped me remember what’s really important, and what is not.

This past Wednesday was “Ash Wednesday,” which marks the beginning of the season of Lent (the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday).

It’s possible you noticed some people walking around with greyish-black markings on their foreheads shaped roughly like a plus sign (+).

This is a practice in Christianity (in particular, for Catholics, Lutherans, and Orthodox denominations, but some others practice this as well).

As you kneel, the pastor makes the sign of Christ’s cross on your forehead with ashes while saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.”

It serves as a reminder that our existence is of God’s doing and of our own ultimate mortality–that just as we were made of the “dust” (or molecules, atoms, elements, the matter of the universe), our bodies will ultimately return to that “dust” after our deaths.

On its face, this may sound somewhat morbid or considered a downer, but it’s more than that.

As we look forward though the next 40 days, it concludes with Christ’s death on a cross, and his resurrection three days later.

As we consider our own mortality, we are reminded that God loves us enough to come into our midst, freely give a love to us which we do not deserve, and to suffer a terrible human death.

We also remember that God raised Jesus from the dead and that in faith, God has promised to do the same for humanity.

In the Ash Wednesday Gospel lesson, we are reminded to “store up treasures in heaven” rather than on earth. This means to put others needs ahead of our own gain, to be charitable, loving, forgiving and selfless. We are also reminded not to brag about the good we do or to call attention to ourselves. The good we do for others isn’t about us and how “good” we are, it’s about sharing God’s love with others as God has with us.

As we move through the season of Lent, remember your mortality–that to dust you will return. We remember this as we prioritize our lives. We remember this when we interact with other people. We remember the call to put others ahead of ourselves.

Often, Christians will “give something up for Lent.”  Many times, people will abstain from something as a practice in self-sacrifice and discipline.  You may be familiar with people giving up things like chocolate, lunches out, or alcohol.

But if you’re looking to both “give something up” and to improve the lives of others, we are encouraged to give more.  This could be an increase in your giving to a charitable organization or volunteering your time to a good cause.

Remember that at the end of Lent, we mourn the death of Christ as we mourn those of our loved ones and consider our own. But we also celebrate the resurrection of Christ and remember in faith God’s promise of the same for our loved ones and for us.