Today is Ash Wednesday. Think with me about the black cross-shaped smudge marks on our foreheads. This symbolic act means many things.
Traditionally the ashes come from the burning of palm branches used last year on Palm Sunday. We often save some of the branch ash, mix it with olive oil, and use it many months later later, tonight.
The meaning of this is important: 'The Savior we cheered for on Palm Sunday is executed just a few days later on Good Friday. We can go from great enthusiasm to murderous rage in the blink of an eye. Ash Wednesday reminds us of what we are capable.
Then, the ashes also mean we are mortal; our lives will come to an end. We have come from the dust which the Genesis story of the creation of humanity represented by Adam. We experience the death of dear friends within the congregation and our families. We have learned to 'couiont our days.' The ashes, reminding us of where we are headed, reaffirms what we know but try to forget.
Finally, the ashes call upon us to 'die' to things which damage our spiritual life. Fasting is a part of Lent; we commit to die to something important to us. We also let these ashes push us to 'die' to that which hurts our daily life: racial prejudice, greed, getting down on ourselves and many other public but mostly private sins. The ash cross says to others: I'm working on things here...be patient with me."
Bless us all on our personal Lenten journeys.