Pastor Dave Lillie shares his thoughts about the tradition of Ash Wednesday in this 3-part series….
In Part 1 of this meditation/column, I retraced some of the history of Ash Wednesday, and how it had gradually been changed from a personal, meditative action to a required act of self-reflective guilt!
On Ash Wednesday 2017, I suggested reclaiming the historical meaning whereby ashes symbolize humility and mortality. It seems to me that a particularly appropriate way to do that is by remembering the love that we have benefitted from during our lives. Specifically:
– God’s love present at the moment of creation – the creation of the universe has been sometimes described as resulting from the power of God’s love being so dynamic and irrepressible that it exploded (ala ‘Big Bang’) and created all of our physical reality.
– God’s love trying a new thing in Jesus Christ – for more than a millennium, God had tried to communicate effectively through direct contact (Moses) and through the prophets. As the core of God’s message to humanity is that we are deeply loved by God and that love is the only power that can change the world, God tried something new to get the message across. Jesus Christ became the embodiment of God on Earth.
– God’s love in urging us to turn toward Christ thru Grace – John Wesley preached that God’s Grace is constantly at work in our lives, even before we are aware of God or Grace or much of anything else!
This ‘nudging’ by God through grace-induced yearnings as well as the grace-filled actions of others is a continuing expression of God’s never-ending love for us.
There is another kind of love that I believe is worth honoring on Ash Wednesday, specifically the love that we’ve received from others. On the day where we acknowledge our mortality, maybe the most poignant kind of love is that which we received from family and friends who have finished their Earthly life. Each of us is the product of the love and support of others. And just as they helped make us who we are today, we are shaping the lives of the people around us. As we give thanks and remember those loved ones who are residing with Jesus, as mortals we realize that our time to touch and influence the lives of others is short.
In the third and final part of this meditation / column, I’ll suggest reclaiming an ancient understanding of anointing with holy oil – also part of the ritual we observe on Ash Wednesday.