Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return . . .
Everything turns to ashes, everything whatsoever. This house I live in, these clothes I am wearing, my household stuff, my money, my fields, meadows, woods, the dog that follows me, the clock in the hall, this hand I am writing with, these eyes that read what I write, all the rest of my body, people I have loved, people I have hated, or been afraid of, whatever was great in my eyes upon earth, whatever small and contemptible, all without exception will fall back into dust.
—Romano Guardini 1
Welcome to Ash Wednesday, the first day of the 40-day season of Lent. We begin with ashes, the symbol of all that is passing and mortal. With the smudge of ash on our foreheads, we begin a discipline of repentance and renewal, a journey of turning back to God in preparation for the miracle of the empty tomb, of life conquering death . . .
You are invited to partake in the recorded video of this day’s Ash Wednesday worship service by clicking here: https://youtu.be/8xvipw6WMDM. This recorded worship service is on Trinity’s YouTube channel and available whenever you would like to access the service.
Ash Wednesday worship resources to support your Ash Wednesday worship experience can be accessed by clicking here: Ash Wednesday Worship Resources.
Be reminded that there is also an “in person” option today for your Ash Wednesday observance. Between 1 and 3 p.m. and again between 5 and 7 p.m. you will be welcome to participate in our “drive through Imposition of Ashes” at the sanctuary carport on the south side of the Trinity church building. If this visible sign of our mortality would be meaningful to you, know that Pastor Dan and I will be onsite to provide that ashen blessing. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
A blessed Ash Wednesday, O people of Trinity.
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven . . .
In today’s Ash Wednesday gospel Jesus cautions us against public acts of piety—on the one day of the year we usually leave worship (if there’s not a pandemic going on) with a visible smudge of ash on our foreheads, reminding everyone we see that we have been to church. What are you supposed to do, wipe the ashes off before stepping outside? Do you leave them on only to have the cashier at the grocery store say, “You’ve got something on your forehead?”
Of course, Jesus does not tell us to refrain from all acts of public piety. What Jesus seems concerned with is the why, not the what. Why do you pray in public? Why do you give alms? Why do you fast? If appearing faithful is a way to build yourself up before others, then it is not faithfulness but hypocrisy. On the other hand, if praying over a meal in a restaurant is something you do because praying at meals is part of your faith, then bow your head and pray.
The Old Testament tells of a ritual in which persons in great sorrow sat in ashes or poured them on their head. Since early medieval times, ashes were distributed on the fortieth day before Easter as a sign of individual and communal penitence, and at the Synod of Benevento in 1091, the ritual was recommended for all Western Christians. The twin emphases of the day are sin and death: in sorrow for sin, we join with ancient peoples to put ashes on our head; and in honesty about death, we remember that, like Adam, we are made of dust and will return to dust. Acknowledging our sin and death readies the people of faith for their annual baptismal journey to the resurrection.
As the season of Lent begins each year, God’s people are invited to take on more than a smudge of ash. We are invited into three great disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving. You hear the invitation to such disciplines in the Ash Wednesday reading from the prophet Joel.
12Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
13rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord, your God?
15Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
16gather the people.
Jesus’ words in the gospel further remind us that our acts of faithfulness always come as a response to God’s gifts. Remembering this gives a note of humility to all we do. Piety is not something to brag about or to be proud of; piety is an act of acknowledgment of the one who first gave us everything.
Finally, Paul makes it clear, as if there were ever any question, that we only become righteous in Jesus. We know grace because Jesus becomes our sin. This is the grounding for everything we do throughout the holy days of Lent.
We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:2
Friends in Christ, now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. On an Ash Wednesday when we offer “ashes to go” at the sanctuary carport, let the ash of our piety be a witness to the church’s willingness to show up outside its walls. The ashes this day are symbolic of our sacrifice of love beyond our doors, touching the world with our acts of faithful discipleship. Remember, you are dust, but God gives life to dust. You are mortal, but you are not alone.
Blessings to you, O people of Trinity. May you be safe, may you be well, and may you be held in love.
It remains a privilege to serve as one of your pastors.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Robert Linstrom