Today I placed more than 250 ashen crosses on foreheads. Being a pastor provides a unique perspective on Ash Wednesday. As my blackened thumb drew each cross I spoke the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Talk about a “wake-up call” in word and in action. It’s stark. It’s almost “off-putting.” It’s a little uncomfortable.
Tall people, short people, young people, old people. People with high foreheads and low foreheads. People who could barely kneel and people who nearly leapt up to the rail. They all received ashes in the shape of a cross.
Ashes are a reminder of God’s Words to Adam in Genesis 3: “Dust you are. To dust you shall return.” Sin had entered the world, and with it, death. Not just for Adam, but for everyone.
But these ashes are in the shape of a cross: A reminder of the death of Jesus Christ to win for us salvation from sin and death. Death is a reality. But eternal life is now a much greater, deeper reality to all who have received the gift of faith. Forgiveness has carried the day. Not just for Adam, but for everyone.
The youngest person who received ashes from my thumb this Ash Wednesday was three months old. The oldest was ninety-three. Ashes were imposed on all 180 children in our school, and on most every person in our two worship services. Young or old, all will one day die a physical death. But it need not be the end.
When I was finished with the imposition of ashes I looked out into the church and saw a whole crowd of people with little black smudges on their foreheads. If you saw it, it might almost make you giggle. That might sound inappropriate on such a solemn occasion. But if you think about it, it may be the most appropriate reaction one could have.
Life has conquered death. At the end of the day the smudge of ash can be wiped off, just like physical death will one day be wiped away by new and eternal life. That ought to produce a bit of a giggle…right?!
Ash Wednesday is a chance for the Christian to laugh in the face of death. It marks the beginning of the forty days of Lent, a solemn season filled with contrition, sorrow over sin, and repentance. At the end of the forty days is the death of the Son of God.
But on the Third Day He comes dancing out of the grave laughing in the face of death, bringing joy to His people and life forevermore. So, go ahead. Laugh along!
What are your Ash Wednesday thoughts?