What might make the best ash this Lent?

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An article written for the All Souls Weekly, February 27, 2014. Ash Wednesday is March 5, 2014: Imposition of Ashes & Low Mass at 7 a.m. and Noon; Imposition of Ashes & High Mass at 7 p.m.

On Ash Wednesday, the church uses ash as an ancient symbol of repentance.  We pray for God’s forgiveness and that we might become more forgiving of others.  The ashes we use are typically made from the burned palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday.  These are the physical, material, actual ashes of the day.  But I wonder what sort of ashes we might need most this Lent, if ashes were made of other things?

As for me, I think I might benefit from making a big bundle of plans and expectations, placing them on an altar, letting them be burned up, and then meditating on the ashes they become.  Last Wednesday’s Mass reading from James reminded us, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15)  Meditating on the ashes of my expectations and assumptions might invite me to recall that God is in charge, and God alone. I can put things on a calendar, but there might be a snowstorm.  Our builders can dig great holes in the ground, but they might come up against a stone wall that supports the alley.  I might hope for this or that concerning a particular person, but the person might get ill.  On and on goes the list of interruptions, challenges, and surprises.

Next Wednesday, I’ll still receive palm ashes on my forehead, but I’ll be praying that God will continue to reveal all the things that need to be burned up and swept away so that I might more fully rely on God’s mercy and care.  May God show us all how to be more faithful in following Christ.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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