An Ambivalent Lenten Journey


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

Growing up northeast Presbyterian, I don’t think I ever “celebrated” Ash Wednesday. I’m not sure our church even “celebrated” Lent – but then again, I wasn’t always paying very close attention. My first Ash Wednesday service was here at Rye Presbyterian. I remain ambivalent.

Maybe it’s because in the text we read each year Jesus reminds us that when we fast we aren’t supposed to do it in a way that broadcasts to the world – “Hey, look! I’m fasting!” Wash your face, keep your fast, and get on with it. Quietly. No one else needs to know. Yet on our foreheads goes that big smudge of ash – for all to see except us, at least until we rediscover it in the bathroom mirror.

Or maybe it’s because I now know so many of the stories behind the faces on which I am privileged to put ash each year. One has had two loved ones die in the past few months. Another is slowly losing a fight with cancer. Another is a child – all smiles and joy.

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

To all of them, the words were difficult to say. The child’s smile vanishes. For the others, they didn’t need any reminder. They are living the ashes – waiting and hoping.

But perhaps it communicates more to people than I give it credit for. A cross of ash. The touch of another who looks us in the eye and says, “Remember.”

Remember the one who calls you by name.

Remember, dark days are a reality, but you aren’t alone.

Remember your baptism. Dying and rising. Friday and Sunday.

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

And remember, the story will not end there.

Dan Love is a Teaching Elder who serves as Co-Pastor of Rye Presbyterian Church.

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