From ashes you came, to ashes you will return. What a sober statement. Usually you hear this phrase at a graveside. Even there it is not comforting. Facing death you do not find comfort in being reminded that you too would turn to ashes.
I went on a quest after I wrote this blog yesterday. I felt an urging to find a place to have the imposition of ashes. There are so many paradoxes to my personality. I can appear very confident. I am not. To go to a strange church, especially on this holy day, is not easy for me.
At the camp pool, we learned about the buddy system, it works well to conquer fears. I thought if I had a “buddy”, or knew at least one person at the church, it would be easier. Most of the churches that I knew or am known at here in Nashville do not observe Ash Wednesday.
I considered Trevecca Community Church since I have a good friend that told me they were observing. While I suppose one should be thinking about sacrifice for Ash Wednesday, I didn’t want to drive through downtown Nashville to get to the campus.
When I went out I scanned all the reader boards to see who was doing ashes and when. St. Ann’s the Catholic Church had three options. I had missed the morning and noon one. The evening one was early. A Methodist church also was early. The Methodist church a mile from my house didn’t post their hours. I called. No answer. I would see my neighbors and the pastor is a friend. I was still uncertain.
My daughter Bethany knew of my desire. It sparked the desire in her as well. At 5 pm, I still was undecided. The urging did not leave. Bethany, on her way to school passed yet another Methodist church. Their reader board said “Ash Wednesday Service 7:00 p.m.” She wanted to go. We decided to meet at the church at 6:45 p.m.
Bethany and Maria were waiting for me when I pulled behind them. This was an inner-city church with no parking lot. A police car pulled behind me, then another behind it. Two officers in uniform got out and I was gripped with fear. What did I do? I knew I didn’t run a light. I knew I had used my turn signal. I was going too slowly to have been speeding. We followed the officers inside the church.
The church was old and traditional. A huge pipe organ graced the front of the church. Maria thought we were in a castle. The officers went elsewhere for a community meeting. The Pastor came and greeted us. He told Bethany there was a nursery. Maria left to find new friends and toys.
I wondered where the people who went with the cars outside were. Were we the only worshippers? Were they all there for the community meeting? They were having table fellowship with a meal of BBQ ribs (no fish?), Cole Slaw and rice. Latinos, African Americans and middle age white folk enjoyed a meal together. Many Latino children roamed around from table to table talking to the guests.
An announcement was made in both English and Spanish concerning the community meeting and the worship service. Slowly those there for worship found their way to the sanctuary. Music was rough although the pianist was excellent. By the third verse of I Surrender All we were all on the same verse. I made harmony with the African American woman in front of me and we sounded good. I think some of the Latinos were singing the song in Spanish as Spanish hymnals and translation through headphones were provided.
It was a quite traditional service. The Pastor exhorted us to remember who we are and whose we are. He asked us to remember the ashes throughout Lent and even on Easter Sunday when we were dressed up in our best.
As we came to the altar for the imposition of ashes, a heavy presence of God settled on the place. I realized you are always at home with the people of God. About 30 of us, most Latino knelt to be reminded that dust we are and to dust we will return. All of us were equal. All of us were dust. All of us were there to repent and participate in this ancient ritual of penance.
The children came in from the other room. They also knelt and received the imposition of ashes. I pray those children will be well catechized to understand the beauty of this ritual. I pray that all of them will grow to love Jesus. I honor their parents who bring them to the house of God. I wonder about their family stories. Many may be poor for it is that type of neighborhood. Some spoke no English. Some may have been illegal. None of that matters as we acknowledged our fragile humanity by receiving ashes.
There was an odd heaviness in the presence of God. It was a good heaviness, a sobering heaviness. I am human. I am dust. Resurrection is coming.