Ash Wednesday is not really part of my church’s tradition. Dark and sombre with an emphasis on the dreariness of death, it does not sit comfortably with a movement whose focus is on new creation borne on the vitality and inspiration of resurrection life.
Yet we will observe Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, in a service tonight. There will be prayers, reflective visuals and music, communion and the daubing of ashes on the forehead. Why?
One cannot embrace the fullness of life without confronting the reality of our mortality and finiteness. Jesus himself modelled the balance, providing purpose for both that which pulls us toward abundant living and that which he calls people to give over willingly, sacrificially, “losing life” and thus, paradoxically, gaining it. Indeed, it is the theme that runs all the way through Lent to Passion week, Good Friday and the Day of Resurrection.
And lest one still believes the whole journey of Lent is too sombre for a vital movement, remember the metaphor that completes the phrase “from the ashes…”