If you are Christian, even from a non-liturgical perspective, you know today is Ash Wednesday. Even secularists have a vague inkling, what with all of the coverage of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) in the media. Areas with a heavy Catholic population will see people walking around with black smudges on their foreheads resembling (hopefully) crosses. It is one of the few times of the year that Christian symbolism invades the larger world in a personal, not watered-down propagandic way.
I am a big believer in symbolism. Symbols often speak to us in ways that other means of communication cannot. They touch us at the deeper levels of our existence, often slipping past our defenses in ways that argument and rhetoric cannot, touching the archetype (quintessence) receptors we all seem to possess deep in our souls. For that reason I really like Ash Wednesday. I will readily admit that it does jibe with my “Mr. Lent” cognomen (nickname acquired over time), but at the same time I appreciate the stark message its simple symbolism portrays: death is close at hand and in the end everything returns to dust. The powerful words said over you when the ashes are applied are, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
I do not think it mere coincidence that absolute depravity was on Rebecca’s mind this week (see Total Depravity below), since that doctrine and the symbolism of Ash Wednesday go hand in hand. Depravity, death, dust, and their images all point to same issue, sin and its outworking in the life of mankind and creation and their longed-for redemption at the cross of Jesus Christ (see Levers below).
Let’s face it, we need the reminders, the symbols that cut through to our heart of hearts, that remind us that despite all of our efforts at self establishment, at engendering importance and meaning into our existence, there is a coming judgment, a coming point of demarcation that cannot be avoided, only encountered and crossed. Death and dust takes us all and at that point we will have no choice but to address our total depravity at its root. What happens then depends on whether or not we have surrendered ourselves to the only lever that can pry the sin from out of our souls and offer us the hope of redemption and eternal life.
So, whether or not you attend a church service today and get ashes crossed upon your forehead, I pray that my simple efforts are able to reach those archetyical touchpoints in your soul and remind you that the nexus point of your eternal destiny inexorably approaches. I further pray that by the grace of God you are ready to meet that moment, the lever of the cross of Christ firmly planted in your being, ready to finally extricate whatever remains of that total depravity, so that the dust to which you return is merely the foundation of your new clay on the potter wheel of God, who will finish what he planned for you long ago, a vessel of dignity and honor.
Grace and peace be to you on this day of dust and ashes.