Faith Voices: Reflection for Ash Wednesday – Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson

I have long loved Ash Wednesday. It is a particular and peculiar Christian ritual, as far as I can tell. It begins our journey through Lent — a time of remembering the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years and Jesus tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. It is traditionally a time of repentance, fasting and abstaining from activities and foods that might separate us from God. For me, Lent has become a time of attention and intention, a time when I try to strip away the distractions that keep me from reflecting on God’s love and the goodness — the real goodness! — that exists in our world. As we approach Ash Wednesday this year, I share these words from Rachel Held Evans’ book Searching for Sunday. Her words are very much Christo-centric. I share them hoping that whatever your faith background, they may illuminate your understanding of what Ash Wednesday can mean for those of us who identify as Christians.

“We are made of stardust, the scientists say — the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones, and the chlorine in our skin forged in the furnaces of ancient stars whose explosions scattered the elements across the galaxy. From the ashes grew new stars, and around one of them, a system of planets, and asteroids and moons. A cluster of dust coalesced to form the earth, and life emerged from the detritus of eight-billion-year-old deaths.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Once a year, on a Wednesday, we mix ashes with oil. We light candles and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned by what we have done and what we have left undone. We tell the truth. Then we smear the ashes on our foreheads and together acknowledge the single reality upon which every Catholic and Protestant, believer and atheist, scientist and mystic can agree: ‘Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.’ It’s the only thing we know for sure: we will die.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But a long time ago, a promise was made. A prophet called Isaiah said a messenger would come to proclaim good news to the poor and brokenhearted, ‘to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.’

We could not become like God, so God became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, God got up.

We are not spared death, but the power of death has been defeated. Life to death, death to life — like seeds, like soil, like stars.”

– Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson
First Congregational church, Loveland UCC
Northern Colorado Faith Leaders Caucus

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