It used to be that Protestants did away with such things as Ash Wednesday but that is no longer the case. We will worship tonight to repent and to be reminded that we are all dying. From the moment of our first breath to our last we are in a continual state of dying. This will be new for my current congregation but it won't be new for me. Each person will come forward and I will mark them with burnt palm ashes saying, "you came from dust and to dust you will return". We will repent and prepare our hearts for the season of Lent before us, a season of fasting. I live with this truth everyday, I serve an older congregation and that means we are no strangers to death. The truth is though that being "old" (however you define it) is not a prerequisite for death. This a deeply meaningful practice for me. A reminder of what is at hand and what it is that might really matter in the world, in life, and even in death. I have known for a long time my days are numbered with a number I do not yet know. Most of us know this and we distract ourselves from this common everyday truth, we are mortal.
Tonight though, I will (if she so desires) impose the ashes on my own daughter with the solemn reminder of her return to dust. Chances are she won't understand it fully, no one ever does. It seems a cruel twist of the preacher's fate to have to remind their child they are mortal. A truth I pray I will only have to remember out loud once a year. The very idea of one's child being dead is enough to make even the most stoic among us shed a tear. But for me it is just an abstract. A thought. An idea. that doesn't sit well with me.
What about for my loved ones who have lost a child. Their truth is different, more tangible than my abstract idea of loss. I am left to wonder how this day is for them. Then I wonder for the rest of us how we might live differently if we had to see on a regular basis that our children out living us is not a given. That no matter how cute, how smart, how compassionate, no matter how much they changed you, made you better, made you yell... they too will one day be nothing more than the dust from which they were created.
To you as we stand in these moments of repentance and preparation for fasting, you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Today I am grateful even for the unpleasant reminders that help us remember we are human.