Do you remember the childhood rhyme:
Ring around the rosie,
Pocketful of posies
We all fall down!
While there is disagreement about whether these lines refer to the Black Plague of London, we know what ashes look like and what it feels like to fall down. I choose to take these words at face value today.
They remind me of the creation circle of God’s best work. We started from ashes, dirt particles, unconnected flakes of creation. God knit us together in an engineering feat that has not been replicated. But it is a circle, and we will return to ashes when we fall down and take our last earthly breath.
Many services will mark this day with ashes placed on our forehead. We must wear them as a confession
That we are not enough; but God is,
That we are more self-willed in some areas than God-directed,
That we need whatever God wants to give.
That we welcome these weeks of Lent to help us return to who God created us to be.
Abram remembered his ash beginnings when he interceded for his nephew Lot, caught in Sodom and destined for death. Abram acknowledged that he was “nothing but dust and ashes.” (Gen 18:27) He lay his predicament before God and to plead mercy in his utter helplessness. to help Lot.
Job also made this confession when he responded to one of his accusers. He confessed his God-created origin: “I am nothing more than dust and ashes.” (Job 30:19)
It is our description from the very beginning. We are nothing more than dust and ashes. We are marked from the beginning. Marked for life. Marked for death. But also marked for more than this earth can give. Marked for everthing God can bring.
The breath God breathed into Adam, He still breathes into us. Living His life-giving breath does wonders to our body of ashes.
Therefore, in our desire to return to God with our whole heart during this time of reflection, (see It's Time to Return) we bring our bodies of ashes so that God would breathe in us again the empowering breath of resurrected life.
No matter pandemic or political unrest or economic chaos, God empowers us to live the enlivened lives of those filled with the breath of God. It is His breath that makes the difference. Daily. Monthly. Yearly. Until earth takes away our last breath and God breathes again a breath that will take us farther than this earth ever could.
It is this process we commit to again on Ash Wednesday. That this earthly life is an incomplete picture. That we are destined for more life than this earth can give. That nothing this world can do or undo will take away the breath of God in us unless we refuse to receive it.
This makes wearing the ashes proof of God’s mysterious and unreplicated work to make something beautiful out of nothing.
For this, I come to God and wear this mark of irresistible creativity.
I am marked for life!