Dip your fingers into a small bowl of water, making the sign of the cross to remind you of your Baptism
Find a photo of - or draw - a rainbow, to remind you of God's promise to Noah: God's intention is not to destroy, but to maintain an everlasting covenant to love all of creation
A cross, or photo of a cross,
reminds you that, as God's beloved children, we lay our suffering at the foot of Jesus' cross. In baptism, we take it up again on behalf of others who are suffering. We also look at crosses to think of how they symbolize Baptism's daily shedding of the "skin of our sin," as we are invited into God's transforming grace in the new "skin" of Jesus.
A house under construction signals the diverse community of the baptized: Saints/sinners who are rebuilding the church; those who are seeking to overturn the old ways and systems which have divided us; and all who are laying the foundation of justice and inclusivity.
Find a bible, or look at one online. As you look at this symbol, remember that God’s word is written on your heart. We don’t have to doubt or go seeking for God – God comes to us in Jesus and the Spirit, who promises to imprint the law of love within us.
O God, as we go through life, we are reminded of the gift of Jesus and His life-changing potential. Help us to embrace these symbols for their meaning: the promise that your Words will be printed on our hearts:, creating new lives and purpose; living in your love, as Jesus has taught. Amen.
On this day of hearts and flowers,
When lovers make public their profession of love
I retreat to the memory of an erstwhile romance;
As newer, shinier loves glow in the candlelight of now
I gently blow off the dust of what was
And hold to my heart love’s fragile form.
I am loathe to show it
(To those whose wanton display
may prove my love lacking)
And I fight to remember, to feel,
to hold once again
That intimate pleasure
Now privately mourned.
How is it I feel so real-ly, this phantom love’s presence
As if his heart still beats next to mine?
And how, through the ache, do I feel exquisite pleasure,
That dims not at all with the passage of time?
To other lovers, whose ardor burns brightly:
Cherish the love you see right before you
My witness is this - it soon may be gone.
Years ago, when I pastored Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Beloit,
I made my way across the frozen plain on I43 toward home. . .
after an Ash Wednesday service.
I noticed that my gas tank was low,
so I pulled into a gas station south of Darien.
I filled the tank and then went inside to pay the bill.
As I fumbled through my purse,
dug out my wallet and found my credit card,
I noticed that the attendant - a girl of about 16 - was staring at me.
I made my usual small talk and handed her the card,
which she swiped, still staring at me.
When she handed me the receipt she asked: “What’s that on your forehead?”
(So that is what she was staring at!)
“Ashes,” I said, assuming she’d realize their significance.
There was a long pause (she kept staring at me, wondering - I think - if she needed to call 911!)
But then she asked:
“Why do you have ashes on your forehead?”
I replied: “It’s Ash Wednesday!”
(Thinking that she would say:
“Oh, Of course, I forgot! I couldn’t attend worship because I was working.”)
Instead she looked even more concerned:
“What is Ash Wednesday?”
I stood there, in that brightened gas station at a loss for words.
How could I explain the ashes on my forehead,
the ritual, the meaning, behind Ash Wednesday?
In a few words - especially the part of “You are dust and to dust you shall return”
I tried to explain it to her. . .trying not to shake her up even further
about this crazy woman who showed up with ashes on her forehead.
I did my best, and left, wishing her a safe and warm night.
As I walked to my car I wondered what she was thinking about our encounter,
and this ritual which we perform every year.
I wondered how she had never known about Ash Wednesday, and the imposition of ashes; of what Ash Wednesday and its rather morbid ritual means to the unchurched, the rest of the world?
I had assumed that it was as broadly known as the Fourth of July.
How was it that her path hadn’t crossed others in the street
or in a religiously connected hospital,
who impose ashes for staff and visitors on Ash Wednesday?
Years before, before I decided to go to seminary, on another Ash Wednesday,
I sat at Bergen Mercy Hospital in Omaha, next to my father,
who was in the ICU, dying.
Time stood still,
and all of my attention the previous days was directed
at the whirring machines which were keeping him alive,
and the reports of doctors whose messages were increasingly dire.
Death loomed, and I had no idea it was Ash Wednesday.
It was only when I left for a bite to eat that I saw a woman on the elevator
whose forehead was smeared with ash.
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was almost mad.
Right away, I remembered the words “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”
which on that day were an unwelcome and rude prophecy,
a reminder of the truth I didn’t want to hear.
Many of us have handled real ashes,
not just the fake ones we use today.
There is nothing as devastating as that...
I’ve held the ashes of my husband, my son.
And Tonight feels like an intrusive reminder, if not a grim forecast,
for my life and the lives of all the others I’ve known and loved.
Truth be told, I don’t much like Ash. Wednesday.
This year I’ve pondered, again, what it means:
Why do we need this grim reminder of death?
Aren’t we reminded each night, amid the pandemic, when we turn on the news?
There are always stories: Murders, wars, fears for catastrophic climate change.
Why do we need a special day?
What does Ash Wednesday mean to you?
How would you explain this practice
and its meaning to someone in a gas station
who has never heard of it?
Could you make sense of it for them. . .for yourself?
I have a sense this ritual is somehow necessary, whether or not we like it.
Ironically - because it is needed in a world faced, daily, with death.
Each Sunday, throughout the year, our worship focuses on Resurrection.
Our Sundays are “little Easters,” although we tone it down a little during Lent.
But what is resurrection if not understood in the context of death?
So much of Sunday worship is what I call a “production of promise.
We would rather skip over death and get to the good part:
Jesus is raised, and so shall you and I be raised - after death.
And while the world swirls with news of “death” -
the church ignores it:
There is “victory” in the cross,
why should we waste our time being sad?
Well, that kind of superficiality gains adherents for a time.
But Easter without death is not relevant
to those of us who have handled REAL ashes.
And along with those real ashes come real questions, real doubt.
I think that Ash Wednesday is so disturbing to me
because on this particular day,
when I hear the words “You are dust”
While they call out my grief and fear,
They call out something worse.
Something I call my “Inner Agnosticism.”
I hate that.
Each Sunday, I get to proclaim the message of Good News,
somewhat detached: From death and the cross.
But on Ash Wednesday they are both there. . .death and the cross,
staring me in the face,
almost DARING me to believe.
It’s a terrible place for a pastor to be in, for any Christian, for that matter.
But here we are, tonight.
And here we will come again next year,
and the years after that, God willing.
And somehow, this is the starting point.
This is “ground zero”
the reckoning of the rubble of life with faith.
This is the “kick off” of our Lenten journey,
This ritual can’t be explained in a few short sentences,
spoken in a gas station on a cold night.
Ash Wednesday is intrusive,
a rude prophecy which we don’t want to hear.
“You are death, and to death you shall return”
We live with death, we die -
and in this truth, what is Truth?
And how does our faith guide us in that?
No “Amen” at the end of THIS sermon.
Just a question mark. . .
But what is a question mark, but an exclamation point with its head bowed. . .?
"Because Ash Wednesday is the "ground zero" of the reckoning of the rubble of life...with faith; the "kick off" of our Lenten Journey."
This sermon is adapted from a sermon Paster Molly Doreza preached in 2019 at Bayshore Lutheran Church, which probed into the dark crevasses and struggles of faith.
Souper Bowl of Caring. 267 cans of soup collected and donated to Muskego Food Pantry
Copyright © 2020 Bethel Lutheran Church - All Rights Reserved.