|Last week Mo. Sarah wrote in her eNews article about the practice of Lent. As she said, our Lenten journey begins this year as it does every year with Ash Wednesday. The practice of having the sign of the cross placed on our foreheads with ashes is a powerful experience. The grittiness of the ashes reminds us of the realities of this sometimes-harsh world. The cross reminds us of the Grace and redemption of Jesus, which gives us hope when faced with the dirt and grit of the world. The words on Ash Wednesday, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return,” remind us of our mortality, that God formed us from the world’s dirt, and that we will return to that dirt. Again, the cross reminds us that even though we are dust, we are something more because of the eternal life given to us by Jesus Christ.
Given the powerful symbolism of this Holy day, it is understandable that we would have a service around the imposition of Ashes that includes language explaining Lent, as Mo. Sarah quoted in her article last week. However, what about Ashes-to-Go? When I first heard about Ashes-to-Go, I was skeptical. How can someone appreciate the somber yet hopeful nature of this beginning of Lent in a to-go package? Then a Presbyterian minister in the town I served in Florida asked me one year to join him in the downtown area for an hour to do Ashes-to-Go. I reluctantly agreed. I found people consumed by life’s busyness yet needed to hear those words that reminded them of who created and redeemed them. It wasn’t cheap or meaningless; on the contrary, it was deep and spiritual. People would walk up almost out of breath and leave calm. Some people ask for specific prayers; others want a hug after receiving Ashes. It reminded me that while our liturgy provides a beautiful and rich tradition of worship, God isn’t only found inside the church walls or in the Book of Common Prayer. God is everywhere, constantly reaching out to people and finding them on sidewalks, in the workplace, or school.
This Ash Wednesday at St. John’s, we offered Ashes-to-Go to our preschool as parents were coming to pick up their children. We did this last year as well, and just as had occurred every time I have done Ashes-to-Go, God was working to help us see God’s spark of creation in our lives and the Grace and gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Even, and sometimes especially, a four-year-old understands that this is something special as they usually are calm and quiet while the Ashes are placed on their forehead. Now that we have received our Ashes, whether at the service or to-go, may power of this ritual focus our Lenten season.