“Ashes, ashes, we all fall down,” but only so as to be raised up! “We go up to Jerusalem,” Jesus says. It symbolizes our lives in faith with God. Such is the journey of Lent. The American version of the children’s rhyme, Ring around the Rosie, is probably an echo of the devastating effects of the plague in 1665 in England, transformed centuries later into a light-hearted children’s game. But it is good to be reminded of serious things.
Next Wednesday, February 14, in a wonderful paradox of Providence, is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday! The latter marks the beginning of Lent in the Christian tradition with the ritual of the Imposition of Ashes upon our foreheads in the sign of the Cross and with the words, “Remember, O man, that dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return,” from Genesis. We are recalled to our origins in creation as the dust into which God has breathed his spirit. And the ashes? They are a biblical symbol for repentance, our recognition of having turned away from God’s Word and Will and so desiring to be turned back to God. Lent is about taking spirituality seriously through “self-examination, and repentance, by prayer, fasting, and self-denial, and by reading and meditation upon God’s holy Word.”
Such disciplines belong to the pilgrimage of love, “for where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” It is a question about our spiritual priorities: will it be with the passing things of the world, or will it be with the eternal things of God? Lent is a call to maturity and seriousness about our “words, thoughts and deeds;” in short, our lives spiritually which inform all that we do. The pilgrimage of love is about attending to the motions of God’s love made visible on the Cross and the idea of our participation in Christ’s sacrificial love.
Lent has its counterpart in the seasons of special discipline in other religious traditions. It picks up on the Jewish preparations for the Passover and has its parallel with Ramadan in the Islamic world, for instance. There are special times of devotion involving prayer, fasting, and study in many traditions.
On Wednesday, I will be in the Chapel from 2:30-2:50 pm to administer the Imposition of Ashes as a sign of repentance and commitment to all and any who so wish. Just come to the Chapel at any point during that time to receive the Imposition of Ashes and to take a quiet moment to reflect and pray. Through such acts, we seek God’s redeeming grace and forgiveness and are freed from ourselves and freed to God.
(Rev’d) David Curry