Ash Wednesday March 6, 2019
Today Ash Wednesday is my 56th birthday. I don’t ever recall Ash Wednesday ever falling on my birthday before. What a bummer! Usually my birthday is a self-indulgent affair with ice cream, Doritos, nonpareils and whiskey. Often, No in fact always it has fallen in lent but I’ve usually just treated it as a “Grace Day”. But today my birthday came into direct conflict with my religious practices.
I always try to start lent, Ash Wednesday with a fast day. Meaning water only for 24 hours. The first couple times I did this I thought I was literally going to DIE. However, over the years it has become less of a big deal. It’s even opened my eyes to see how “food centric” I can become. Life is more than food and leaving food alone every so often helps me realize that.
However, when it comes to leaving food alone sometimes are easier than others like when I had to do all the prep for a colonoscopy. I thought hey all those times I’ve fasted is helping make this easy. Sometimes are harder than others, like walking into church this morning with my bottle of water and smelling all those wonderful smells from last night’s pancake dinner. Ugh! And then having Barb Sloan show up with a wonderful birthday present- homemade butterscotch pie! Oh Lord how long O Lord How Long will you test me?!
But today being a strange combination of birthday and Ash Wednesday has given me some insights I didn’t have before. Birthday’s as you start racking them up like I am become times to go back and stroll down memory lane it seems. And birthdays are also times to look forward, to evaluate the direction your headed and look forward to the next memories you want to make.
Ash Wednesday is something like a birthday reminder. We’re asked to examine ourselves- look back over memory lane not just for the failures in our faith relationship with God but also for the moments in our faith journey that were especially meaningful, uplifting and remember what went well and what went poorly. Ask for forgiveness for what went poorly and give thanks for what went well.
Ash Wednesday also has a futuristic aspect to it. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. At first glance it’s not a very happy birthday reminder nor an uplifting look into the future. You know what your future is? Being dust, yep get used to it. That’s how I first reacted to finding out Ash Wednesday was on my birthday. Ugh! For a while I wanted to be one of those people that avoids their birthday. You know the type that doesn’t want to admit they’re getting older. It’s too depressing, too much of a downer you know kind of like…well… Ash Wednesday!!
But then I was looking at it from a strictly human viewpoint and not a Christian viewpoint. Ash Wednesday from a Christian viewpoint actually has good news in its futuristic outlook. We place the ashes on our forehead in the shape of a cross to let us know that with Christ we have hope and a future beyond this earthly dusty realm. Yes, we are dust! Yes, we are fallible! Yes, we are finite. In and of ourselves we are sinful people who will simple shuffle off this mortal coil.
But it’s not just ashes and sadness. This birthday reminder isn’t just “you were born from dust and you’ll eventually go back to dust” because it has the cross. In the cross of Christ we are born anew. In the cross of Christ we are claimed by our heavenly Father and promised a new birth, a bright future, a forever after.
So I have a birthday reminder for those of you whose birthday is a ways off think of lent as one of those birthday reminders. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” The good news is that when that message is delivered in the sign of the cross it also is a bold proclamation that you will one day be born into God’s family in heaven. You might think of paraphrasing the Ash Wednesday words as a birthday reminder “remember you are Christ’s and to Christ you shall return.”
As the Apostle Paul writes in Roman’s chapter 6: 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Its Ash Wednesday. Kind of a birthday reminder- remember who you’ve been and what you’ve done…look ahead at where you want to go, accomplish, do, enjoy but most of all remember who you are today and always a child of God, claimed by Christ’s cross. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Amen.