The I AM
Ash Wednesday Meditation
February 18, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Everybody knows what ashes are.
They’re what is left after the fire burns, what remains after destruction, the leftovers of death. We don’t think of ashes much, unless we have to clean out the fireplace, or if we are at a funeral. You all know the words: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust All of us go down to the grave.”
Ashes are what is left after everything else is destroyed.
Not a very happy thought, really.
Not the kind of symbol most of us care to have in front of us.
Not the kind of thing we want marked on our foreheads.
Not the image we want to see in the mirror.
You can wash them off, of course, and people do that. But symbols are not the reality, and getting rid of that cross of ashes doesn’t make the reality behind it go away. The reality is that we are someday going to die. The hard truth of Ash Wednesday is that it reminds us of limitations, that each one of us has an expiration date. That isn’t something we like to think about.
But there is good news in these ashes, good news in the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” That cross of ashes is good news because it tells us two things: it tells us that we are on this earth for a limited amount of time, and it reminds us to whom we belong. That cross reminds us that we belong to God, through Jesus Christ. The ashes remind us that our time here will end, so it is important to make the days and moments count.
It is important to know who we are and why we are here. Ultimately, who we are is all about to whom we belong. You know, of course, to whom we belong – we belong to God, through Jesus Christ. In this season of Lent, we’ll be looking at stories that help us know God. God said “I AM that I AM” said “I will be who I will be.” Jesus said “I am …” too – then used lots of symbols to help us understand.
Jesus told us,
I am the bread of life
the light of the world
the good shepherd
the true vine
way, truth, life,
All these symbols, all these ways to understand, tell us more about who God is, who Jesus is, and so, they tell us who we are. We belong to the great I AM and we were made in the image of God, created for a purpose – to share God’s love and mercy with all people.
The cross on our foreheads can help us consider our own deaths, and so, push us to consider our own lives – to spend our time in the best way we can manage. Because the season of Lent reminds us of our limitations, but it also invites us to conversation,
to imagination, to transformation.
The season of turning and returning is not only about remembering that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. It is about turning our faces toward the God who redeems souls and the God who conquers death, and the God who calls to us saying “Return to me!”
Repent – turn – come back to God, to life, to grace, to hope.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust All of us go down to the grave.
Yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”
May this season of Lent, this cross of ashes, stay on your forehead, even after you have washed it off, so that you will seek the joy and goodness in each and every day,
turning away from that which is destructive,
turning toward that which is good,
living each day in the knowledge that you belong to God,
who loves you extravagantly and eternally.