Ashes to Ashes

My son went with me to the Ash Wednesday Taize service at church tonight. He had expressed interest in it earlier in the week when I mentioned it (he hasn't gone to one before). Tonight he was a little resistant to going (it may have had something to do with the Valentine's Day cards my wife brought home from Target tonight that contained mustache tattoos). I drug him along anyway (he has a tendency to not want to do something when it's actually time to do it).

He sat and drew during most of the songs and scripture, but he tends to listen well that way. I think he sung most of the chants as he drew. And he was interested in going up to have the ashes crossed on his forehead.

I asked what he thought of it on the way home. He liked it, but he wasn't sure he got all of it. But who among us does? Even in understanding the meaning behind all of it, there's a lot of it that eludes us on this side of the grave. Which is good. Mystery keeps faith alive.

He liked the candles. He said he wanted to paint a picture of the ones hanging on the wall (so I took a picture of them for him). As we were leaving he also spent some time looking at the crown of thorns and the icons of Jesus that were in the front of the chapel.

* * * * *

On Monday morning I woke up to news that a friend from church had died. He was the father of a good friend of ours. I've only known him for less than three years. I had hoped to get to know him better. He was the kind of man you wanted to be around. He had joy. He had happiness. He had wisdom. He was an outdoorsman. He had an air of mystery to him.

His death came suddenly--and thankfully, fairly painlessly. But it was too early (or so it feels on this side of Heaven).

We gathered together at church last night for our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper (fine--we just call it Pancake Tuesday). It's an old tradition, a way of using up all the rich and fattening (hence Mardi Gras--Fat Tuesday) food in your pantry--butter, sugar, eggs, milk--before Lent. We pile on the traditional sugar with lemon juice, fruit and whip cream, Nutella and whip cream, or whip cream and whip cream. Sometimes we have pancake flipping races.

Last night we gathered outside afterward and had a short prayer service for the burning of last year's palm branches, creating the ashes used tonight. Afterward we said some prayers for our friends who had last their husband, father, grandfather.

* * * * * 

We begin the Lenten journey by hearing the words
Ashes to ashes,
Dust to dust,
In dying we rise.
We are reminded of our mortality ("you are dust"). Death is before us. We can't escape it. But their is hope. We have a choice. Eternity stands before us. 

Tomorrow, as friends gather for the memorial service for our friend (I unfortunately can't get away from work to be there), they will likely hear reminders of this. They will celebrate the life of a godly man who is with his risen Savior now.

Along with our mortality we hold before us in Lent our identification with a suffering Savior. This is the intent behind "giving something up for Lent." We fast (if we do) in order to hold before us the journey Christ went through to the cross. It is a journey of death, a journey of life, a journey of love.

* * * * * 

I'd love to hear your comments on what Ash Wednesday means to you.

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