With this week comes another Ash Wednesday. For Lutheran Christians (and others), this is a day wherein our worship includes something called the Imposition of Ashes: time in our service to receive the sign of the cross on our foreheads, marked with ashes. It is a somber time, a time which - for me, anyway - always causes deep reflection on sin and death. For us, the ashes are symbolic of grief and pain.
It may seem strange to reflect deeply on sin and death, but they are ever with us. Our own sin chases us around as we deal with its consequences daily. The sin of others affects us, too, as we are hurt by those we love - but also, we observe the sin of others in our frantic news cycles: who has killed whom today? Who has robbed another today? Whose violation of another person is in the headlines today? I have gotten to a point in my life where I avoid watching or reading news too late in the evening because often it's just too much to process right before sleeping.
On Ash Wednesday, I sit in the ashes of grief and pain awhile. As I think about and then confess my own sins, I am humbled to realize that I cannot stand in judgment of those whose sin I want to judge. I also consider the pain that I have caused and how I might avoid causing harm in the future. And I grieve the presence of so much hurt in our world. At its core, Ash Wednesday causes us to think about these things, even as we hear the words spoken over us: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
In a world that tries to avoid pondering too deeply about sin and death, the ashes of Ash Wednesday call us out of our avoidance. We will ponder sin, and grieve about its consequences, and yet we will also give thanks to God for God's great love for us, shown most fully in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
"...the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever." (Ps. 117:2)