Sermons That Work

Ashes, Ash Wednesday – 2000

March 08, 2000

[This sermon is meant to connect to the Ash Wednesday liturgy as found in the Book of Common Prayer.]

Today we retrace our Baptismal crosses with ashes.

Once upon a time there was a five-year-old girl named Eleanor who, after she was baptized, asked, “Can you still see the cross on my forehead?”

A marvelous question that says everything about living a Christian life and the life of the steward of God’s gifts. For it is this cross, traced with oil at our baptism, which connects us to God through God’s covenant with us. Making today, Ash Wednesday, a perfect day to review the promises we make in that covenant; promises which shape the way we live our lives as people of the Way, people of the Light, people of Jesus.

And it is also a day on which we must remember that we mortal people are nothing but dust, remembering that in the beginning of time, God took a handful of dust, breathed into it, and then there was life: the first person. And that first person was made of dust, holy dust. The intimate nearness of God is made visible in these ashes we receive today.

These ashes can also be very scary. Even frightening.

Ashes are a frightening reminder of all those ways in which we are separated or estranged from the Light; all those ways we know as sin. In a few minutes we will recount many of the ways we separate ourselves from God and from each other. And especially from “others,” people not like us. In being disconnected from others and each other, we disconnect from God.

So the ashes remind us of our connectedness and our disconnectedness to and from God. They remind us just how close or how far away God sometimes seems to be.

Made as they are from last years palms, the ashes also serve to remind us both of our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem as well as his crucifixion on a Roman cross. He went from glory to humiliation in just a few days; from light to darkness in just a matter of hours.

Of course we are those people who know that the cross eternally stands empty, like the tomb itself, calling us to a new life, a resurrected life, with Christ.

Every gathering around this altar for Eucharist is another celebration of Easter. And this celebration forms the ultimate reality for those of us who live a life of connectedness and disconnectedness, from light to darkness, from covenant to sin, a life in which God sometimes seems so near, and other times seems so far away.

Ash Wednesday is a time to repent, to return to God, to reconnect, to put ourselves and all our life in the Light of the One who promises eternal life so that every day, not just today, people will be able to see the crosses on their foreheads. They will see them because everything we say and everything we do will proclaim the good news of God in Christ.


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Christopher Sikkema