Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Gray Thumb

My thumb was gray last night at the end of the Ash Wednesday service. I ran water over it, applied some soap, and rubbed it dry with a rough paper towel. The gray was still there. I suppose preachers who do Ash Wednesday services run the risk of leaving with a gray thumb. Actually, I wish it was just the thumb. Ash Wednesday worship is a powerful moment of worship for the people of God, but it is also an unsettling moment. Most everyone who came last night knew that before the work of worship was done, ashes were going to be placed on their forehead, and they would hear it said, "Remember, you are going to die." The words of the ritual may have been, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return," but the message remains the same.
As the one who imposes the ashes and says the words, I find it to be an unsettling moment. After saying the words of the ritual a hundred times or more, the meaning of those words about our mortality really settles down in a deep place in the soul. I can never get away from the realization that the people before me are those I care about and, here I am, looking them in the eyes, telling them they are going to die. It is just unsettling. Some who stand before me bear the marks of aging, but some also are carried to the ashes by parents. These, too, are marked and hear the same words. Yes, them, too. They, too, are a part of that crowd bearing mortality.
Last night another group showed up as well. I found myself remembering and seeing some from previous Ash Wednesday moments who were no longer here among us, but in the heavenly place. Their coming in my memory made it one of those "Yes,...but" moments. Yes, it is true that we shall all die. But, it is also true that death does not have the last word for we shall live as surely as Christ now lives and reigns among us and in the heavenly place. As I left the service with a gray thumb and an unsettled spirit, it was good to hear that word resonating in the inner places of my heart.

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