‘Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return’.
Why do churches mark people with ash on Ash Wednesday? What is Ash Wednesday all about?
Such a seemingly strange thing we do as Christians, meet to be marked in ash with a cross. In a world full of Barbie pink and voices that call us to avoid focus on our frailties, why does the national church mark this day in such a way?
To attempt to answer that, perhaps we need to ask another question. How do we manage pain and suffering? No doubt we all carry ‘a great sadness’ of some description, an experience in our life where hurt has been caused to us, or through our actions we have caused hurt and pain to another. No doubt we can all share stories of that sense of guilt and shame and failure at the way we have been treated or the way we have treated another. Where do we go with those feelings?
As a person practicing living with faith in Jesus, a person who mucks up and makes mistakes and causes pain and inflicts pain, the place I go is the cross of Jesus. I sit there and seek the forgiveness of Jesus, who understands human pain, because he endured it. So I come and confess my wrongdoings and I admit my hurts and pains that I carry and I allow the ashy dirty cross to be marked on my forehead to remind me that this is not the end. That the things that I do wrong and the things that are done wrong to me are not my whole story, in Christ there is renewal, the ability to reframe and re-story the places of deepest hurt and pain and grief in my life. Lent for me is like a caterpilla creating it’s chrysalis, a place that is dark and hidden away whilst transformation happens, and Easter day is like the butterfly bursting out of the chrysalis.
If you have never come along to an Ash Wednesday service, maybe this is your year. Come, sit at the back, observe or take part, which ever you find yourself doing. Know you are welcomed through the cross of Christ.