Lent Devotion Week 1 Day 3

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Psalm 51:1

Ashes of identity

A little girl, six or seven, studied my face last Wednesday. What’s on your head? She asked.  “Ashes,” I said. “Why do you have that?” She asked, tilting her head for a better look.

Yes, why did I have that? Why go through this ritual every year?

As a young pastor, I cringed as I marked the foreheads of worshipers with the grim reminder, “Remember that you are dust and to the dust you shall return.” These were my friends, my people, faces I love.

I still recoil, especially when marking the head of a baby or small child, their innocent skin soft and untouched by hardship. They have barely begun to live and already we speak of death. Seems cruel.

But these ashes are not a mere smudge but in the form of the cross of Jesus Christ, expressing the deepest truth of life: All that falls … rises, that which dies comes to new and vibrant life in the warmth of the great love of God, a love that is for all.

Marked with a cross of ash, we know who we are and who God is. We are mortal, and God brings life out of every death we die. We fall prey to our selfishness and egoism, but the arms of the cross embrace us and whisper, “Let it go; you are mine.”

We fail to live out our highest ideals and feel unworthy, and God says, “I will lift you again and again into the fullness of a love that will never let you go.” As Christ was raised from death by the glory of God the Father, this glorious love continues to shape in us the mind of and heart of Christ.

So we wear our ashes without shame or fear, marked by the Everlasting Love who claims us.

Pr. David L. Miller

Remind us, O Lord, that we are not defined by our failures but by your love.

To ponder: What do the ashes mean to you?