Today I led an Ash Wednesday worship service.
I’ve been leading services like this for a decade now, so that statement on its own is not noteworthy.
We offered a prayer of confession, sang David’s familiar words of Psalm 51, and shared the behaviors that we could give up for Lent (anger, unforgiveness, alcoholism, etc…)
Then, it came time to share the ashes.
According to the order of service, I was to say the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” as I made the cross on each forehead.
For some reason, I couldn’t do it. As I looked at a community of people who live in poverty, violence, and brokenness, I could not say “you are dust”. Maybe for people of more comfortable lives, the humble reminder of our human frailty is necessary. However, for people who live amongst the dust of life every day, the scripted words felt to me like rubbing someone’s nose in it.
Instead, I started with the first person in line, called each person by name, and gave an individual blessing. I told people they were beautiful and wonderfully made, that they are loved by God, that they are forgiven and redeemed, and encouraged them to walk in God’s grace. I could not tell you the specific words I said to any one person, but shaped the words around the confessions offered earlier.
As I spoke these words of blessing, the line grew, more wanted to receive this gift of grace, and be renamed for who they are and whose they are.
The journey of Lent began in a powerful way as we walk toward being remade in the image of Christ.