My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
Call: Out of the depths I have cried to You.
Response: O Lord, hear my voice.
Call: With my whole heart I want to praise You.
Response: O Lord, hear my voice.
Call: If you, Lord, should mark iniquities:
Response: Who could stand? who could stand?
I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word do I hope.
Reflection on Ash Wednesday:
Two years ago, my grandfather died. And unbeknownst to the family, my grandmother carried his ashes around in her purse for over a year. She ended up carrying them with her all the way from Washington to the National Dairy Expo in Madison, WI, a destination to which both she and my grandfather had made an annual pilgrimage for decades. There, at the Expo, to her two daughters chagrin, my grandmother produced their father’s ashes in a Ziploc bag. She told them that she wanted to spread them on the shavings where the cows they loved walked.
My mother and aunt pleaded for a different place. One with fewer people, fewer animals. And I’m not sure how, but they won her over and they ended up in a local park.
With a few close, dairy farmer friends and her daughters by her side, my grandma set to spreading her husband’s ashes. I understand that, with plastic hotel cups, they each scooped out and scattered around a bit of Mike Lancaster. They did it carefully because it was windy. But my grandmother wasn’t as careful as the rest. When her turn finally came, she popped her cup of ashes up into the sky.
And like in a scene from a movie, the wind caught the ashes and it just covered all of them.
My aunt had just put on lip gloss and so found her lips coated with my Grandpa’s remains.
I hadn’t thought much about them until I heard that story. What would it be like to have the ashes of your father stuck to your lips and in your hair and on your clothes?
The thing is, there’s something just right about the whole image because the dead have a way of sticking to us…sticking to us in sometimes the most unpleasant of ways.
And this isn’t too far from the meaning of Ash Wednesday. On this day, the first day of the season of Lent, we’re reminded that death sticks with us, that it has from the beginning. We’re reminded of our mortality, our frailty, and that finality is all around us.
From dust you came and to dust you will return are the words spoken with the imposition of ashes.
They’re words from the curse God speaks in Genesis. It is to say, without pretense, this is the way it is: You are going to die. In this life, there is sadness and sorrow. There is sin and suffering. There is bleakness beyond what we can sometimes bear.
These are the sorts of truths that, like death, we’d rather bury than carry around with us in our purses.
But on Ash Wednesday and over the course of Lent we take these truths and put them front and center to remember. From dust you came and to dust you will return. Ashes in the shape of a cross. A symbol of death.
But also a symbol of hope, of life.
And this is Ash Wednesday too. For when remember the way things really are, we remember what we really need and we open ourselves up to the possibility of what’s really to come. We’re reminded of our need for and the hope of Easter, that day when death was conquered, and the curse was broken.
From dust you came and to dust you will return.
God, death is sticky. Sorrow is sticky. Ours sins are the stickiest. We cannot shake these realities that we loathe. And so today we face them for just a moment, trusting that, with your nearness, we might have the courage to live in reality.
And we confess that our reality is so often strange and disappointing.
It’s confusing that life is short and hard. It frustrating that so much of our time is spent on monotonous tasks.
We want life abundant and joy and peace that passes understanding, but we settle for the worst things; relationships that hold us down, jobs that don’t use our gifts, addictions to things that drain us of life, binges that waste our time.
Sometimes our minds get stuck on endless loops of self-loathing lies.
Today we recognize that in our reality we get stuck. Just stuck.
And so we pray for freedom. Freedom from ourselves and the lies we tell.
We pray for love. To give and to receive it.
We pray for understanding, that in this short life we might have enough of it to live meaningfully, to see beyond the minor things to the things that truly matter.
We pray that we might actually grow, more and more, into the people you’d have us be.
We pray that death and sorrow and sin—those things that stick to us and weigh us down would be overshadowed by a greater reality—a reality you offer should we choose to see you as present in this life. A reality where we are endlessly loved, where we are forgiven all the time, where we have reason to hope, even when we doubt. A reality where the hope of Easter is daily before us.
And we pray that in this Lenten season we might live a little more into this reality each day.
God go before you to lead you, God go behind you to protect you, God go beneath you to support you, God go beside you to befriend you. Do not be afraid. May the blessing of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you. Do not be afraid. Amen.