The ashes are only a symbol. Because of that, we do not need the symbol to find or have the meaning of this day. So, join now the church universal for Ash Wednesday.
Imagine yourself in a sacred space. Certainly might be Bethany's Interactive Chapel or our Sanctuary. Might be a long trail in the woods, a rock by a stream, a chair by a fire. And yes, it might be that where you are right now all of a sudden seems to be, or needs to be, sacred. See it and see the holiness of the place and trust that God and all the saints are with you, right there.
Remember why you are here: this webpage, this sacred space, this life. Find the internal sense of being at prayer or open to the spirit or ready for worship. You might try noticing your breath coming into your body and then leaving your body. Notice that it slows down. And that you calm down as you breath in and out a few times.
You and I were created by God as good. Life came as God put/breathed spirit/breath/wind into us. Then Jesus came to make sure that we have life, life to its fullest and deepest. Life with God, following Jesus.
Of course you and I know that we are not as God wants us, or even as we would settle for. Ash Wednesday tries to bring our reality closer to God's vision. Any day is good for this, by the way. But today we remind ourselves of what is not as it should be. In the remembering, we try to let ourselves believe - trust - that God does forgive us. But first we reflect on:
"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise."
Psalm 51, traditional for today.
The psalm speaks not about us being righteous/justified/clean for our sake. We do not want to be cast from God's presence. True. We want a right spirit deep within us so thatwe can be right FOR God. Then we will speak of God with joy and wonder (not guilt and shame and fear) and sing the praises of God so others will know the God we know.
God will not always chide, or hide joy from us. God is ready to forgive if we are ready to seek that forgiveness. And "seek" is a good word for all this. To seek this forgiveness, we must turn away from the path we are traveling, turn aside from the road we are on. That is, we are aimed for the wrong destination and we seek the right destination by turning away and going another way, the way that Jesus taught, preached, walked, and invites us to travel. The Good News.
Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance. Everyone tells you so. But they do not make clear that repentance is 're aiming' or a change of mind and purpose and life. We tell God (admit really) that we see we are going the wrong way, and then turn towards God and go that way. It is not that complicated or weird. But it is more than saying that you are sorry and wont do it again. It is a change of life.
"To the God of Jesus, we pray. We have erred, and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too often the devices of the world and desires of our own hearts. We have offended you and your justice. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us, fools that we are. Spare us what is just as we confess our faults. Restore those those who repent; and do so according to the promises declared by Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, for his sake; that we may now live a just, joyous, and holy life, to be a glory to your holy name. Amen."
From Book of Common Prayer, adapted
I believe and trust that when we ask for this forgiveness, it is there for us to receive. And if we turn away from a bad direction and turn to a good direction, not only are we forgiven, but we have started to live in that forgiveness. I like that. The world seems to be brighter and more full of color when I travel with Jesus and to God. I seem brighter and more full of color. And this is the life I want and I want for you.
So, to balance Psalm 51, here is psalm 32:
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom God imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to God,"
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress,
the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you
the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.
Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in God.
Be glad in God and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
See? You do not need ashes on your head or hand or heart. We need the life of Jesus and the hope of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. What you and I need is to seek God by turning from the crappy things we choose now and to seek or reorient ourselves towards God. It is not that hard. We pretty much know what we need to change. We may even know we can not change everything and will have to prioritize where we will put our spiritual energy. But, we know. Don't we?
And do you see too how this means we have new life? Freed from the old, we are reborn to live a new? So, if you want to have ash on you go right ahead, it is a great symbol. But, I hope it is eaqually clear that the point of the ash is to say something is burnt and gone. And, because of that, there is a new light in our being.
In fact, try this. Slowly breath in. Be calm for a short moment and then let your breath out in a slow and comfortable way. As the breath leaves, say out loud (or depending on the sacred space you are in - silently) the first line below. Inhale and exhale the next line. And so one until you are done.
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am
Be still and know that I
Be still and know that
Be still and know
Be still and