Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right spirit within me. (Psalm 51: 1-2, 10)
I sit here this evening with some semblance of an ashen cross partially hidden under my bangs. It’s actually the second time I’ve been ashed today. I washed the other one off so that I would appear clean and “unashed” for the second service of the day. The truth is, this annual ashing, so to speak, is nothing less than odd. We get all dressed up (well some of us) and we make our way to what is a sort of dark and sullen sanctuary to say out loud that we have once again not been the people that we really ought to be. I supposed you could call it our annual cleansing, a spring cleaning, as we ask God to create in us a clean heart.
But ashes? It is rather odd, when you think about it–remnants of a life gone, reminders of death and destruction, of finality. And yet, ashes are also a symbol of a great leveler. Destruction is like that. A fire burns and knows no bounds. In its path is both beauty and ugliness, both wealth and poverty, success and failure, right and wrong, righteousness and evil. The fire burns, consuming whatever is there, and leaves nothing but ashes. So, being ashed this night is a reminder not merely of what I have done wrong, not only of those places where I have wandered off the pathway, but rather that, when it is all said and done, we are really all the same. We are dust, blown helplessly through the winds of the earth until, until God breathes into us the breath of life and we are born alive and renewed. And the oddest thing of all is that God does that over and over and over again, never seeming to tire of sweeping through our lives and giving us a clean heart.
It is a good thing, this clean heart, because that is what it takes to make the trip to Jerusalem.
So, this night, I am ashed, but, if only for a moment, I am clean enough to begin the journey. From these ashes, comes life. Again and again and again.
Our journey to the Cross has begun. Go in peace. Go with a clean heart.
Grace and Peace,