What’s the deal with the ashes?
On February 14th, 2018, in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a former student opened fire killing 17 students and injuring 17 others. This shooting happened on Valentine’s Day, but also on Ash Wednesday. It is for this reason that one of the most striking images of that day emerged in the news. The image was of a woman standing and weeping while wearing black ashes upon her forehead.
That image indeed is worthy of an entire sermon. In that moment, at that time we see why these ashes are upon the forehead. We do indeed hear those all too familiar words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return”, as the ash is placed upon our brow.
The words are scathing for those who hear and those who speak. As a pastor, I can tell you that it is a sucker punch to the gut to say these words over a small child. For, I am saying in that moment that small child is in fact…dying. We are never given a date or time for that death. Hopefully it is long after I’m gone, but it might not be. Those words keep us firmly mindful of our mortality.
After the shooting in Parkland, and after most every mass shooting questions and discussions emerge. What are we to do to prevent this from happening again? Some will fight for stricter gun control laws, others will fight for looser gun control laws. There will be much discussion about mental health. In recent years it has been popular to mock people for offering up thoughts and prayers. This is a tragic reaction from an increasingly secular culture.
There is a reason that you don’t receive dust upon your forehead. There is a reason that you receive ash instead. Throughout the scriptures, ash has been used as a sign for judgment. The ash serves as a reminder that not only are we dying, but that it is our fault. It is a reminder that our lives and our kingdoms are but ashes before our Lord. The source of these evils is not in too many guns or too few guns. The source of these evils is our corrupted sinful nature. The sinful nature that leads one to kill 17 High School students, also lies deep within each of us. The ash placed upon our brow is a reminder that death is judgment against our wretchedness.
In the image of that woman after the shooting, the ash upon her brow isn’t a random dot, but the image of the cross. Why? Because this is our only source of hope in the midst of a dark and dreary world. It reminds us that Jesus took our sins and burdens upon himself. That he felt the fullness of man’s evil plans and schemes. Though he were the only innocent man to ever walk the Earth, he was killed as murderer.
In his death upon that old rugged cross, “He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) When we are baptized the Pastor says, “Receive the sign of the cross upon your forehead and upon your heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” For you see it is in Baptism, that you personally received the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice.
On Wednesday, March 5th you will have two opportunities to receive the ash upon your forehead. We will offer it in the morning from 7:30-9:00am and again at services at 7:00pm. You will be reminded that you are dying on account of your sin. You will be reminded that in Baptism you have been claimed to be Jesus’ child. As you go about your day with the ash upon your brow, you will bear witness to a world of death, that there is hope in the midst of the greatest tragedies. That hope is found not in any politician or new law. That hope is found in Christ alone, and it is for this reason that we offer prayers to him.
So, remember that you are dust and to dust you will return. Remember that you are Baptized into Christ. Remember that you are a child of God. Remember that in the cross of Jesus you have life. Remember to declare it to a world that ever needs Hope.
Pastor Neil Wehmas
Last Updated: 3/1/2019