Today is Ash Wednesday. We held a small, intimate service at midday, maybe 30 people came. Dan played the guitar beautifully, everyone sang so well and the space was welcoming. Jeanne and Alice set up a beautiful Lenten tableau of bare sticks, rocks, dark candles and Spanish moss, all of it calling us to a quiet space, a simple space, a sober space, a remembering space. Because this is a day for remembering, for remembering who we are – the dust of the earth – and for remembering who God is: the one who comes in love, willing to suffer on our behalf.
Three members of the gathered community read the words of scripture for us, the familiar words for this day from the prophet Joel, the apostle Paul and Jesus himself, in Matthew’s gospel. Arleen read so beautifully, her voice full of pathos, almost to the point of tears as she closed out her passage…”The priests, who minister in the Lords’ presence, will stand between the people and the altar, weeping…” Frank worried about his voice holding up, but he made it through the verses from 2 Corinthians just fine. Jim wondered if he’d still be there when the gospel reading came to pass, as he had a commitment at 1:00 p.m. He had time to spare, and then stayed longer anyhow. It was a rich time, filled with grace and tenderness and I am grateful to have, once again, been privileged to lead and to offer ashes to dearly loved friends and even a few strangers. We missed Don very much, but are grateful for his and Martha’s ministry in Kenya these early weeks of Lent.
Dan was the last to receive ashes from my thumb, and then he impressed them on me, offering the ancient words, “Remember you are dust; repent and believe the gospel.” We offered prayers on behalf of others, we passed the peace and we read the final blessing to one another as we went back out into the world. And even though the dark marks on my forehead brought strange stares in the supermarket, I was grateful for their presence. For these dark specks in the shape of a cross testify to this day, this season, of reflection and repentance and remembering. May God bless us all as we live Lent this year.