We hear those humbling words in church on Ash Wednesday. These words are a far cry from the triumphalism that often grabs the headlines. They are not about us being bigger and better than anyone else. They are a reminder that we are all created, and that we all die. All of us. Rich and poor, sick and healthy, Christian and "none," Americans and Somalis, Republicans and Democrats-we all die. And we are all created.
Knowing that, acknowledging that frees us up to live. And it frees us up to live for our neighbor. There's a certain irony in our Ash Wednesday practices. We listen to Jesus telling us not to show off our piety, and then we leave church with a mark of the cross on our foreheads that everybody can see.
A friend of mine told me a story of a fishmonger in Pike's Market. It was Ash Wednesday, and a customer who had just been in church approached the stall to buy some fish. "Man, do you know what you've got on your face?" asked the fishmonger. "Yeah, it's Ash Wednesday." To which the fishmonger responded: "Right. Ash Wednesday. I know that." Then he grabbed his friends and said, "Hey, we gotta go to church, man, it's Ash Wednesday." To which his buddy said, "What's Ash Wednesday?"
We live in a society that is increasingly fractured. There is a faction that proclaims its religiosity loudly and judgmentally, and claims the name Christian for itself and only itself. And there is a faction that is suspicious of anything religious, thinking the whole thing is hypocritical. There is a faction that has no idea what the fuss is about. And then there is us.
We believe that the cross is about everyone-the doubters and the smug, the immigrants and the ICE officers, the comfortable and the afflicted. And we believe that God is alive and operating in the world, and that God calls us to share the good news. We believe that Jesus died for the fishmonger, and for his clueless friend. And we believe that it is our job to share that good news in as many ways as possible.
Without practicing our piety in order to be seen, we get to find ways to share that astounding news-that Jesus died for all people. Some of us will share it by preaching. Some of us will share it by acts of kindness. Some of us will share it by denying ourselves something in Lent, and making a donation to someone else. Some of us will share it by praying for our enemies.
We leave church on Ash Wednesday with the mark of the cross and the reminder that we are all created, and that we all die. When we look at each other, when we look in the mirror, we are reminded where this Lenten journey leads-to the cross. To the suffering and death of Jesus, for us and for all people. Because Jesus died for the sake of the world.
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA