On the first Sunday of Lent, we discussed the story of Jesus hearing God’s voice calling him beloved before going off by himself to make choices based on that belovedness.
Then, everyone was invited to come forward for ashes.
I know – in most churches, those got distributed the previous Wednesday. It’s not practical for our church, which meets in a YMCA that is busy on Wednesday nights just like many of our church members.
So, this year we reverted to the original practice of starting our Lent on a Sunday. We called it Ash Sunday.
The palm branches from our virtual, pandemic service a year earlier were burned into a gritty, ashy pile. Instead of blending in a few drops of oil for lubrication, we use hand sanitizer to make the ashes stick and avoid germs.
Folks in our church come from different denominational backgrounds. Some are familiar with Lent and ashes; others have never experienced the centuries-old practice.
On this day, everyone is invited to come forward and choose where Lent’s message will be traced. If they leave their arms down, the ashes will go on their forehead. Or they can present the back of a hand to be marked with a cross.
Made from the same ashes and love
I sink my right thumb into the wooden bowl holding the ashes and scrape out a small load. I make eye contact with the person in front of me and greet them by name as I reach my ash-blackened thumb for their forehead or hand.
“Remember you are God’s beloved,” I say, “made from the same ashes and love as everyone and everything else. Keep living your precious life in this love.”
Remember your belovedness. Relax into it. Embrace it. Let it transform how you look at yourself, at others, and at all creation. Live in this connective love.
The ashes remind us of two defining truths that need to be revisited not only during Lent but throughout our lives daily.
First, they remind us that life and love are unlimited – how could they be otherwise? — but this phase of unending life comes with a shelf life. It’s the most precious gift we receive. What are we doing with this part our precious life?
Second, the ashes remind us of our connection to everyone else and everything else that God has made. The beautiful, poetic creation story describes God scooping ashes and dust from the earth – our umbilical cord to the rest of creation — and breathing divine life into us.
Then God makes us one from the other, locating our precious lives within a sacred and universal mutuality. All is done out of love. Everything pulsates with this eternal breath of life.
Remember you are God’s beloved … and so is everyone else. You have sacred life within you … and so does everything else. Now, go live in that love. Try to live gratefully, graciously, generously, lovingly, sacrificially, joyfully. Go and nurture the breath of God in all.
Some members of my church had other commitments on the first Sunday of Lent. When they expressed disappointment at missing out on the ashes, I was tempted to respond: Well, maybe next year.
Then I thought: Why not next week, too?
So, for the second Sunday of Lent, we shared ashy blessings again. Those who couldn’t be there the previous week were invited to come forward. Those who had already received ashes were invited to come up for seconds and another blessing – there is no limit!
They came forward to hear their name and receive Lent’s everlasting reminder:
You are God’s beloved, made from the same ashes and love as everyone else and everything else …