Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Read the whole passage)
Just 3 days ago we stood on the mountain top with Peter, James and John. We watched as Jesus was transfigured to white and shining like the sun. We saw Moses and Elijah appear. It was a holy moment on that mountain top. And it prompted Peter to speak,
“Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three dwellings.”
Peter wanted to stay. We wanted to stay. That was the moment when all the chaos and stress of the world melted away and everything was perfect.
But Jesus had other plans, and he took us down the mountain. Took us down in the valley. Took us into the shadow of death.
Jesus brought us here. Here to the day of Ashes.
And today, is no mountaintop escape. Today, the reality of the world, the reality of our mortality, the reality of death comes crashing down upon us.
On Sunday, the voice of God thundered from the heavens. “This is my son, my beloved. Listen to him.”
And tonight Jesus speaks. Jesus reminds us of our place.
Of our imperfections.
Of our ability forget and flaws and failures.
Jesus warns us not to get too comfortable.
Not to rely on our own righteousness, our own holiness.
Jesus reminds us not to trust in our ability to believe or pray or fast or wash.
Today, Jesus reminds us that we do not measure up, that we are mere mortals.
And once we have been reminded that we are imperfect and flawed, we will we confess our sin.
We will confess, and confess, and confess.
Everything will be on the table tonight.
All our sins, every piece of ourselves that has caused us to be self-centred, to forget others, to forget God.
And then, once we have confessed.
Once we have been laid bare and there is nothing left to say,
the reality of tonight,
of the valley,
of this shadow of death
will be placed on our very bodies.
It will be stamped on the foreheads. The crosses we were first given in baptism, the crosses of Christ that were sealed with water and oil, they will now be marked with Ash.
Ash, which is the sign of death. Ash or dust, like we throw onto caskets as they are lowered to the ground. Ash the only thing that is left behind when everything else is destroyed. When cities are razed by war, when our planet is burned up with carbon, when our bodies come to their end, all that is left is dust and ash.
And with Ashy crosses on our foreheads, signs of our sin, our mortality, signs of death we will pray.
Pray for God’s mercy.
Pray for forgiveness.
We will pray and hope that God still remembers us.
We will pray and hope that God still remembers.
Remembers us, even on this night of Ashes.
And of course.
And of course as God always does.
God will remember us.
God will forget our sin,
forget our mortality,
forget our death.
And God will remember us.
And even though Jesus has warned us not to forget our sinfulness.
And even though we have prayed, begged for mercy knowing that we do not deserve it.
God will re-member us.
God will come to us in bread and wine.
God will re-member, re-join us back to God’s Body in bread and wine.
And God will remind us that even though we are Ash, even though we are in the valley, even though we stand in the shadow of death,
God has been there too.
Christ has been in the valley.
Christ has been turned to ash on a cross.
Christ has been dead and buried in the tomb.
And then God will declare – through our very mouths – the mystery of faith.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
And on this night of Ashes, when we confess our sin, when we receive the sign of death in ashes on our foreheads.
God will remind us again. God will remind us, even tonight.
God will remind us that death is not the end.
Even with our sin.
Even with our mortality.
Even when we are turned to Ash.
Death is not the end.
No, this is no mountaintop. This is not the place where Peter would want to stay. This is not where we would want to stay.
But here, on Ash Wednesday, the first step of our Lenten journey.
God will stay with us.
God will meet us,
God will remind us that even in death,
even in the ashes,
there is life.
Photo credit: http://oqisexud.wink.ws/ash-wednesday-cross-on-your-head.php