by Lacey Brown, Member in Discernment, Kirkwood United Church of Christ
Ash Wednesday really starts with the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. Right after being persuaded by the serpent, and tasting the forbidden fruit, Adam hears God walking in the Garden at the time of the evening breeze. Ashamed the couple hides themselves among the trees. When God finds them, God asks them, “Hey Ya’ll, Why were you hiding??”
Adam replies with a guilty conscious, “I was afraid and ashamed because I was naked so I hid myself!” And God’s response to Adam’s unfaithfulness is this,
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground for out of it you were taken and you are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
And this is where we find ourselves tonight, naked before God just as Adam and Eve could not hide from their creator neither can we.
Ash Wednesday is about taking off the masks and the lies we tell ourselves. It is about being honest about the ways in which we have been dishonest and revealing the truth about the ways we attempt to hide from God, ourselves, and from each other.
Ashes to Ashes. Dust to dust.
We are only mortals, dependent on God’s grace. As the writer of Psalm 51 puts it, “Have mercy on me, oh God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me.” Tonight our sin is ever before us- and that is where we want it to be. We want to be able to claim those parts of us we would rather forget about about. Tonight we are able to confess those things before God and before one another.
Yesterday was Mardi-Gras, a day for partying and indulgence in whatever pleases us before we have to give it all up for Lent. A few of us gathered together last night to eat syrupy, buttery pancakes and make ashes for tonight’s service.
As we gathered around the smoky fire, each of us threw a small piece of paper in that contained the things we wish to burn as we move into this new season of reflection and prayer. On my piece of paper, I had written that I wanted to give up self doubt and the fears that hold me back from pursuing my goals. These ashes for me represent both a giving up and a taking on. I want to burn the things of the past that are holding me back and look toward new beginnings in this season of Lent. As we each receive the symbol of the cross in ashes tonight we are claiming both the life and death of Christ, and the reality of our own fragile life and immanent death.
Lent marks the 40 days before Easter as we journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem and toward his death on a cross. I hope this is a time to search for God in the wilderness of our lives, just as Jesus searched for God in the wilderness.
So I ask you, are there things that you need to bury within these Ashes? Are there things you need to pursue as we move toward Easter?
Do you think Adam in the garden truly grasped in that moment the gravity of Gods words upon his life? Do we sitting here now truly grasp the holiness of this hour? I want to leave you with a section of a poem that has always haunted me- I believe it captures the essence Ash Wednesday.
A Dream within a Dream by Edgar Allen Poe
I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream