Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the day we gather to kick off the beginning of Lent. The main marker of this day are the ashes rubbed on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. This ritual action is so powerful that churches typically offer multiple services in their buildings and they hang out in train stations, street corners, or parking lots so that people can grab their ashes on the go.
But this year Ash Wednesday is happening in a surreal setting. Reminding us we are dust and to dust we shall return seems a little superfluous when death is all around us from this pandemic. Beginning a season of fasting seems like overkill when we have been doing nothing but fasting for eleven months – fasting from a way of life we once knew. Asking us to give us something for Lent seems tone deaf when we have been giving up things for almost a year. And with large communities having lost power for several days, churches still on lock down, and best practices prohibiting us from actually touching ashes to others’ foreheads, the whole idea of this day seems like too much.
So why are we even bothering with Ash Wednesday this year? A couple of reasons. One of the base reasons is we need to keep the rituals of life to help us feel some semblance of normalcy – some reminder of the things that have been meaning-giving in our lives. Two, we need reminders that God is present in the midst of all this mayhem. Some of us have never felt God’s absence, some of us have felt the abandonment of God in this time, and some of us have just felt so depleted that God feels distant – not absent, but also not vividly present.
I don’t know how you are holding up this Ash Wednesday. I don’t know where you are on your journey with God these days. But what I do know is that the church is here to walk with you, comfort you, and create space for wherever you are on the journey – whether driving through, watching online, or catching up by email, phone, or text. We are in this together.