Tag Archives: Ash Wednesday

Dusty People

Preached at Cathedral of St. Philip’s “family service” on Ash Wednesday

Today we are remembering that we are dust, and in a little bit we’ll put a dusty reminder on each person’s forehead.  What does it mean to remember that we are dust?

I remember the first time I put ashes on neighbors’ heads and said the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  I was a student in New York, and it was an absolutely frigid day.  I spent part of the day inside a sanctuary putting ashes on peoples’ heads, and I spent part of the day outside doing the same from the sidewalk.  I wore black gloves with the thumb cut off, and after an hour outside my thumb was completely numb with cold.

I put ashes on all kinds of people.  Tall people, short people, busy people, calm people, people speaking different languages, old people and young people.  But the face I remember the most was that of a little baby, just a month or two old, sleeping in the arms of his mother.  “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  Though I had no children of my own at the time, I was immediately struck by the truth that as much as we belong to each other, we belong especially to God.  That none of us can really hang onto another forever, for everyone is dust.  It was and is a reminder that while we are free to make decisions, some better than others, there’s very little we can control.  We are not in control.

So kids I want you to turn to each other, find a partner, look them in the eye, and say “Remember that you are dust.”  And adults, when you look into the faces of those around you tonight and all through Lent, I want you to think to yourself, “Remember that you are dust.”  Parents, when you tuck your children in at night, you can make the sign of the cross on their foreheads, reminding them they are blessed.  And as you do so, I want you to remember that they too are dust.  Because it’s a reminder that we belong first to God. That God creates life from dust, and that God is with us when we return to dust.

As important as it is to remember that we ourselves are dust, I think it can be pretty life changing to remember that the person sitting next to you, the stranger driving past you, the parent or sibling living hundreds of miles away, the child you tuck in at night—they are dust too.

And as dusty people we remember that even before we belong to each other, we first belong to God.  That we belong to God in our birth, in our death, and in every moment in between.  We belong to God and God is always with us.


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Observing a Holy Lent

Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

This morning I preached at our 8am Ash Wednesday service. It was special to me because a) this time last year I was a seminary volunteer at Trinity, sharing ashes in the church and on the street, not realizing I’d be a clergy person on staff a year later… and b) I’d never been asked to preach Ash Wednesday before.

In reading the lessons assigned for the day, I found that I loved the juxtaposition of Isaiah’s “Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!” with Matthew’s “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them… whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you.”

It made me laugh because I read lots of opinions on how to do Lent “right,” often opinions of other clergy friends, and often opinions expressed as rules or facts.

ie: Ashes on the street is evangelism and love in the real world! vs. Ashes to go is cheap grace and not real church! Brothers and sisters–please.

This is probably why my mom texted me earlier this week, asking for advice on whether she ought to wear her ashes all day or wipe them off after leaving church. Usually when my mom asks such questions, I suggest she ask her priest. So when I responded this time that the decision was a personal one she would have to make for herself, she replied, “How would you answer if I were not your mother?” My response: the same.

And so that’s what I preached about this morning. My mom wanted to know what the church’s “stance” is. The church’s stance is simply to invite you to observe a holy Lent. A good start is to observe which of the lessons for today make you squirm more. Do you prefer to wear ashes on your head all day so that folks will see what a good Christian you are, getting up early to go to church before work on a weekday? Then maybe Matthew’s text makes you a wee bit uncomfortable. And maybe in observing that discomfort, you decide to wipe your face clean before continuing your day. Or does the idea of wearing ashes strike you as a reminder of your mortality you’d rather forget–or as a strong symbol of your faith you’re nervous to profess? Then maybe Isaiah’s text pushes you outside your comfort zone. And maybe that discomfort challenges you to wear those ashes “loud and proud” all day long.

The answer isn’t the same for all of us because our sin manifests itself differently in our individual lives. Some sin is communal–it’s true. And some sin is yours alone–or mine alone. In Lent we get to reflect on both. It takes observation. It takes noticing where your discomfort is and how that might be distracting you from following Jesus.

What will you observe this Lent?

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