Truth of Ash Wednesday: who we are, who God is

Published 3:06 am Saturday, March 2, 2019

By the Rev. Dr. Cindy Howard

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Millions of Christians will hear these words next week as a priest or pastor uses ashes to trace a cross on their foreheads. For me as a priest, it is always a sobering and sacred moment – both as I make that ashen mark on the foreheads of people I love dearly and as the ashes are placed on my own forehead. 

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the forty day season that leads to Holy Week and Easter; and the ashes placed on our foreheads on this day are a sign of our repentance and a reminder of our mortality.  At the Ash Wednesday service, we confess our sins and we are reminded of our mortality.

On the surface, I must admit a service like this can sound like a real “downer.”  Frankly, who wants to confess all the things we have done wrong and be reminded that we will all die?  And yet, it is one of my favorite services of the church year; because it is a day when, more than on most others, we confess clearly who we are and who God is. 

The truth is that we have indeed done wrong, and the truth is that God is love, mercy, and forgiveness.  The truth is that we are mortal, and the truth is that God is eternal and wants us to share life with God that is abundant and eternal, beginning right here and right now.  Jesus was very right in telling us that in confronting truth we will find great freedom.  The freedom that Ash Wednesday gives us is why I love it so. 

There is a rabbinical saying that we should always carry a stone in our pocket, one side of which says, “I am dust and ashes,” and the other side which says, “For my sake, the world was created.”  It is the truth of who we are and of who God is.  It is the truth of Ash Wednesday which can set us free. 

Cynthia Carter Howard is member of Andalusia Area Ministerial Association and the pastor of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.