Ashes to Ashes

It seems a little strange that a small pile of dirt gives me such comfort, but it happens to me every single year. 

Since we Baptists don’t generally do the Ash Wednesday thing the experience of the ashes is pretty new for me. Because of my historical unfamiliarity with the rite, every year it seems that some kind of logistical hilarity ensues. (I’ve never had an experience quite like my colleague Elizabeth’s, but you know what I mean.)

Thank goodness we have a church administrator who comes from a different tradition (who has a little bit of sense) and who knows where to order ashes. (In my defense: if you suddenly had to produce a pile of ashes would your first thought really be the Cokesbury catalog? I rest my case.)Ashes

Once we actually acquire the ashes and get to worship, though, that’s when the holiness starts.

To me, anyway.

I get to stand at the front, get my hands covered in soot, and share these incredibly touching moments with individuals as they worship. There’s a holy moment when I put the ashes on a forehead and say “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” and then, “But the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.” Our eyes meet and we both know that, for just this moment, we frail humans get to hang on tight to a little piece of forever.

This year it was a little different for me. After the service, after I’d scrubbed and scrubbed my fingers and gotten as much ash off of them as I could, I spent the rest of the day working. But that night I got to worship again, and this time I did not administer ashes. I just sat next to them, in the flickering light of a whole bunch of candles, at an hour of meditation and prayer to end the day.

As I sat there praying I looked up occasionally to see the ashes on the plate set on the altar. Just a little pile of dirt, but it seemed to call me closer, extending to me the comfort of a smudged finger and a kinship in the reality of existing as a little pile of nothing compared to the big Everything Else. I put my clean fingers back in the ashes, crumbling them until my hands were sooty again . . . and, sure enough, the dark smudges all over everything brought me comfort again this year.

I think the ashes help me remember: I am nothing, really. But the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.

Thanks be to God.

4 Comments on “Ashes to Ashes

  1. Hi Everyone

    2006 I was lucky to go to both First Baptist Church. From a dry ash to a oil bass black ash. Remeber seeing the people show up. Some I know some from other church.

    This year was something else. I was sick. I still coughing and taking my medicine. I was home for two day and one of them was ash Wednesday. I miss it. Remeber last year Jim said “if you have the ash on your for head and walking around showing I am a holy person. He said please wash it off.” I said to myself WoW!!! He so good!!!

    By three o’clock it was smearing over my head. I had to was it off before I go to First Baptist. It my second year anniversary at FBC Monday Night Bible on the 13 of Feb.

    I’m hanging in there. I looking forward to Easter Sunday.

    Have a good week to all.
    Will Short

  2. I’m laughing… at your experience and Elizabeth’s at finding ashes.

    And reminded again of a few items (two, rather similar, to be precise) that I have stored, refusing to throw them out, because I want to turn them into ashes. You see, I want to be an actual bra-burning feminist; I’m just bad at forgetting to bring the items to a fire (note: I don’t believe this would be an appropriate source of ashes for Ash Wednesday).

  3. I don’t know… as much as I’m amused by the concept of ordering ashes from Cokesbury, I also sort of like the idea of taking the process from start to finish. I remember helping my dad make the ashes for services one year when I was about 12, and it’s one of the things that really sort of stuck with me. It’s certainly too much for larger congregations, though. (By the way, our method was disposable aluminum loaf pans, computer paper torn in strips, and the hearth of the manse fireplace. Reasonably controlled, reasonably clean, waaay last minute!)

  4. My husband’s method was to cut last year’s palm crosses into tiny pieces and place them in our cast iron cauldron with a lid on. This was then placed on a gas ring on the stove top and left to cook till the palm leaf bits were reduced to fine black ashy dust. He did this for the whole congregation at the time; we still have some left since he resigned full time ministry. There’s probably enough for several years private ashing services.

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