According to our Eucharistic (thanksgiving prayer) today is the day when we are led “into the desert of repentance that through a pilgrimage of prayer and discipline we may grow in grace and learn to be your (God’s) people once again.” The Imposition of Ashes reminds us “that we are dust, and to dust we shall return”. On the face of it Ash Wednesday sounds pretty miserable – but wait a minute, for words by Herbert McCabe quoted by Timothy Radcliffe in “Why go to Church“:
If we go to confession, it is not to plead for forgiveness from God. It is to thank him for it … When God forgives our sins, he is not changiing his mind about us. He is changing our minds about him. He does not change; his mind is never anything but loving; he is love.” (from God, Christ and Us)
I came across this brilliant poem thanks to Jenee Woodard’s wonderful work with the Textweek website.
Marked by Ashes
Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.
This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.
On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.
Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)