St Alban’s Episcopal Church
Bolivar, Missouri

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Ash Wednesday in retrospect

Ash Wednesday in retrospect (for those who came to worship,and for those who didn’t) A few years ago I shared part of an Ash Wednesday sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber. It struck me again yesterday afternoon between our own Ash Wed, services. I decided to share pieces of it again for those of you who didn’t hear it earlier.
She told about being called by strangers to do a funeral for a young man who had committed suicide. She wrote, “I told his grieving parents that when I head that Billy was bright and artistic, and a musician, and when I heard that he had loved his family and had loved people when they were struggling in relationships, and when I heard that he had struggled with heroin and alcohol addiction, and when I heard that he was passionate – I knew. I knew that Billy was pretty much exactly the kind of person Jesus would hang out with.”
And then she said, “I looked Billy’s mother in the eye and said that what I know for sure is that God is always patient in love and suffering. And that God was present both in the moment Billy entered this world, and in the moment he left it, loving him back into the arms of his Creator.” She looked at me, and mouthed, “Thank you.”
Then just a few hours later, on Ash Wednesday itself, Nadia went to the hospital to visit the new mom and dad and their tiny newborn daughter. She went with a small pot of ashes. She tells of tracing the sign of the cross on the parents’ heads, and then she asked, “The baby, too?” The new parents said, “Yes, please, the baby too”. My voice strained a bit as I pressed ever so gently into the brow of baby Will’s brand new skin, flesh that had been exposed to air for only a few precious hours. I couldn’t constrain the trembling in my voice as I reminded us all in the room that even she, full of beauty and hope and just hours form her mother’s womb, will, at her death, return to dust – and the very heart of God.”
And this was her final; observation: If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on the other, and we don’t know the distance between them, then Ash Wednesday is that time when we hold up the two ends so that our Baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. The water and the words from our baptism, plus the earth and the worlds form our funeral come from the past and the future to meet us in the present.
and in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God that we are God’s, that there is no sin, no darkness, and yes, no grave, where God cannot, will not, come to find us and love us back to life.This promise outlasts our earthly bodies and the limits of time.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our helplessness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; though Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen



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