Today at the Centre for Ministry staff, students and participants in the Uniting Church NSW/ACT Social Justice Forum were invited to participate in an Ash Wednesday service. Thirty or so people gathered to sing, be quiet, listen to scripture, and pray. I must admit I’m not a big fan of the season of Lent. Growing up in an austere Presbyterian tradition, it felt as though we had Lent all year round. However I’m aware that stopping, as difficult as might be for an activist, is good for the soul. Kneeling in silence, in the company of others, and focusing on God’s healing, can feel like an imposition, or a freedom from the tyranny of business.
The pivotal moment of the Ash Wednesday service is the imposition of ashes. Worship leaders today had carefully collected and burned palm crosses and mixed the ash with oil, ready to dab on to our foreheads or hands. It’s symbolic of penitence, readiness for self-examination and openness to a new way of approaching life.
I was struck by the confronting nature of the words given with the imposition of ashes: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”. Words confronting to those who mourn the death of a loved one. Confronting for those who have faced the devastation of bush fires. Confronting to those who have become caught up in the power of their own visions and dreams. Confronting for those who find it hard to trust that others can share the load. Walking back to my seat today I did feel mortal. I’m not all powerful. I’m not all knowing. I can’t be everywhere. I live and work within limited time frames. And that’s OK.
The final prayer for the service moved us beyond confrontation and into the reassurance of transformation.
“Friends in Christ, remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Let the memory of your incomplete humanity awaken you to the wonders, joys, sorrows and pain of life. Let the ashes you wear be the ashes of transformation, of awakening to the beauty and love of abundant life. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of the one who is, was and ever more shall be. Creator, Christ and Spirit One. Amen.”