The Rev. Rhoda Montgomery, D.Min.
February 22, 2012
In my family I’ve got a couple of people who are gifted at interpreting mysterious agricultural signs. People who can tell that there will be a lot of rain because of how the crickets sound… or because the sky is a certain color it means it’s a great time to go fishing. I am fascinated by these people because the world of weather and agriculture is utterly mysterious to me. Throughout my life my immune system has taught me that everything outside is a threat to my ability to breathe so I pretty much just run from my car to the indoors everywhere I go rarely paying much attention to the crickets or the sky.
I’m fairly intuitive about other signs. I can usually tell if I’m boring you to death with my sermons. And I’m pretty good at reading people, though I’m certainly not 100% accurate. I sometimes misinterpret people’s expressions and think someone is mad at me when really the person was just squinting or had some eye irritation that had nothing to do with me. Of course the opposite has been true too when I thought surely the person wasn’t mad at me…must have just been their allergies that made them look so upset…only to find out later that sure enough, they were mad at me.
Signs whether they are social signs or weather signs can be difficult for the most skillful among us to read. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I’m fond of Ash Wednesday.
No mysterious crickets, no secret social code to unravel. This is about as obvious as you can get. We rub dirt on our faces today and the most inept sign reader among us can tell this is serious business. This is not a party. This is somber, old school, hang your head, repentance. And it’s maybe the most counter cultural thing any of us will do this year.
In a culture that rushes at lightning fast speed, a culture where the Easter bunnies are already out at the craft stores, we are doing something quite amazing. We are stopping to reflect. And if that isn’t weird enough, we’re not even reflecting on our accomplishments. We aren’t stopping to see how we’re doing with our New Year’s resolutions or how our income statements look. We aren’t stopping to celebrate some great sports victory either. We are stopping today to remember.
Remember that we are frail, finite, human beings whose bodies will one day die and return to the earth. And there is no section of the mall or a craft store where you can find any Ash Wednesday supplies. I dare you to walk up to the staff at the Macy’s or Target today and ask where the “Ash Wednesday” section is.
In the meantime…we are gathered today to put ashes on our foreheads and remember that as accomplished as we may be, as smart or wealthy or educated or funny or interesting, in the end, we are simply dust. Frail and finite.
But what keeps this day from developing into some oppressive pool of despair, is the sign. The sign I make on your foreheads.
We put ashes on our faces today. Ashes that remind us that we have failed, that try as we might we sin and are in need of repentance. Ashes that remind us that our bodies will one day return to the earth. But ashes in the shape of the cross.
Ashes in the sign that above all other signs reminds us of hope and love and sacrifice and a future.
These ashes are a sign that no matter what….no matter how many shortcomings we have…no matter how many days we live…no matter how many times we have failed…no matter what…you and I are loved…loved more than we can ever fully understand…loved by the One who triumphed over sin and death. Loved by the One who gives us a sign on this day and every time we gather, whether it’s Ash Wednesday or some random Sunday in June.
We are loved by the One who feeds us…who forms our dusty old raggedy selves into the living, breathing Body of Christ.
So remember… you and I are dust and to dust we shall return…but we are dust that is loved forever.