Journeys in Faith
Ashes and Water: the mark of the cross and the sign of Baptism on Christians.
Feb. 14 marked the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday. On that day, some Christians stop to receive the mark of the cross on their foreheads, though it is not mandatory. The mark, made from the ashes of last year’s Palm Sunday branches, is full of symbolism and story. Our ancestors in faith would tear their clothing and apply ash to their heads, to show sorrow, repentance and a commitment to change.
Still today, ashes mark Christians as a people who seek to look bravely at our own actions and inactions; a people who will covenant with God and neighbor to turn away from the death-dealing ways of our culture as we turn towards the life-affirming ways of our God. Ashes mark us as people on a journey to recommit our lives — our talents and our attention and our energy — to sharing the Love of God with those around us, both near and far.
Being marked with ash also is a reminder of our own mortality. Remember, O Mortal, that from dust you came and to dust you shall return. The Bible’s second creation story tells of a God who reaches into the soil of this earth, gathers up a handful of the clay, breathes into it and forms the first human one. This Divine Potter sculpts humanity into being, then breathes humanity into being. It is equal parts powerful and humbling to consider this intimate creation and this ultimate reality. From dust we came, and to dust we will return.
Ashes and dust mark the beginning of Lent, but there are other markers for us to consider. In the gospel of Mark, there is no birth story. No story of angels announcing, of shepherds quaking, of refugees fleeing, or of foreigners bringing gifts. Instead, the gospel of Mark begins with Baptism. Jesus’ ministry begins as he passes through the Jordan River, baptized by his cousin John. Jesus’ ministry begins with the affirmation from God that this one is Beloved of God. And before Jesus has healed, before he has fed, before he has taught or called or sent or touched or challenged or comforted; before it all, God announces that He is pleased in Jesus.