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AshWedAll go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. –Ecclesiastes 3:20 (NRSV)

It is an inescapable reality of our human condition: we all came from essentially nothing, we all return to essentially nothing.  It doesn’t matter what faith you belong to.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t belong to any faith. None of us get out of here alive.

Wow, sounds like a bit of a downer, doesn’t it?  Sure it does.  Let’s try this next one on for size:

“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”–Romans 3:23 (NRSV)

That, my friends, is another inescapable reality of our condition.  I don’t talk about sin all that much in this space, and there’s a reason for that.  I don’t believe in reducing Christianity to some big list of “do this” and “don’t do that.” We get so caught up in these lists that we forget what those rules are trying to point us to: a life transformed into a new creation, a life transformed in the suffering of Christ.

But I digress.

None of us are perfect.  All of us have failed.  I have failed at a great many things, small and large.  All of us, no matter which faith we belong to, or whether we belong to a faith or not, fall short of our potential.

We all harbor prejudices.
We all exhibit anger.
We all lie.
We all cheat.
We all see ourselves as superior to at least one other person.

Many of us will bow our heads today and take the ashes.

What does that mean?  What is Ash Wednesday?  What is Lent?  Look, I could probably put together a rather interesting and informative post about the history of Ash Wednesday, but hey, there’s Google and Wikipedia for that.  Let me, just for a minute, talk about what it means to me.

Ash Wednesday and Lent are about recognizing that we do all of those things above, and more.  It’s about recognizing that we’re far from perfect. It’s not about being religious, so to speak.  When you see somebody with ashes on their forehead you see someone who has willingly admitted that they are a sinner, and that they need grace. It also means that they know they have work to do.

Lent is about that work, that introspection, that examination of ourselves as we try to become more like the person Christ wants us to be.  We don’t labor under the delusion that these works help save or justify us in any sense, but a transformed heart, and a transformed life in the image of Christ sanctifies us and through us, sanctifies the world around us.

That’s right, through making ourselves better, we can help make the world a better place.

For Christians, we believe that Ash Wednesday and Lent aren’t the end of the story.  We also believe that Death and Good Friday aren’t the end of the story either, but these events have to come before the great celebration that is Easter.

I encourage you, whether you’re a religious person or not, to take some time today or in the coming weeks and think about some things that you could do better.  Think about how you could treat others better.  Think about how you can treat yourself better. If enough of us do this, we really can change the world.

For my fellow Christians, I wish you a blessed Lenten journey.

Let me leave you with one of my favorite songs for Ash Wednesday: “Ashes” by Tom Conry.

We rise again from ashes,
from the good we’ve failed to do.
We rise again from ashes,
to create ourselves anew.
If all our world is ashes,
then must our lives be true,
an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

We offer you our failures,
we offer you attempts,
the gifts not fully given,
the dreams not fully dreamt.
Give our stumblings direction,
give our visions wider view,
an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

Then rise again from ashes,
let healing come to pain,
though spring has turned to winter,
and sunshine turned to rain.
The rain we’ll use for growing,
and create the world anew
from an offering of ashes, an offering to you.