Ash - Dwelling Spaces

Wednesday, 1 March 2017


Today I had a new experience. As part of the Ash Wednesday service I had the opportunity to perform the 'imposition of ashes'. One by one the congregation came forward and I marked the sign of the cross on their foreheads whilst saying 'Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.' It was very moving, rich with symbolism, and also a little weird! Being daubed with ash is not really a part of 'normal' life, so why do it?

I guess one of the most similar activities is soldiers putting their camouflage streaks across their faces so that they can blend into the landscape. They are wanting to become like the earth so that they can't be found. If they do it successfully they might be more likely to live another day. Being 'ashed' on Ash Wednesday is a similar reminder that we are all walking on a narrow line between life and death.  Day-to-day I don't think too much about my own death, whilst all around me personally and through the news I see and hear about people who have stepped from life to death, or are about to. These rituals of faith are ways to help us hold such tensions. Life is inevitably and inexorably linked to death.  The Christian story lifts up that tension and places it in a bigger story that describes why life is given and how death is redeemed. It comes with no promise that the pain which now accompanies the severing of life will be any less. But the promise is of a companion for the journey who has travelled that way before.

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