After a long day of travel, I finally arrived in Charleston, South Carolina. My day began in LAX, which was unfortunate. Other than a quick breakfast, I regretfully ate 3 McDonalds cheeseburgers just before boarding my flight, and had little more than a couple small bags of peanuts and chex mix between Los Angeles and Charleston. Worst Mardi Gras ever. Still it’s still great to be back in one of my homes away from home. This is the first time I have returned since I made the long drive down Interstate 10 almost a year ago. I miss the city and a grip of people who live here, so I’m excited to be back.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. My congregation here, being Anglican, held a service yesterday. I miss worshiping with them. Not only does God consistently show up at St. Andrew’s, but it’s like worshiping with one huge family.
If you don’t know anything about Ash Wednesday, it’s a period of repentance (the theological term meaning “to turn away”). It’s a reminder to turn away from whatever you have set your heart upon, and back to Jesus. So turn away from distractions, turn back to Jesus. Because of this, it’s customary for people participating in the season of “lent” (the season beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead) to fast from something. So “Mardi Gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday,” which is basically a day when everyone pigs out before going through a time of fasting. Flashing people for shiny plastic beads wasn’t really the original idea behind fat Tuesday in case you were wondering what the connection was. New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras in their own unique way, unrelated to church tradition… I hope.
You can identify those who participated in an Ash Wednesday service by noticing the distinctive ash cross smeared on their foreheads. Now, you’ve read this far, here’s what I’m getting to. When the priest actually smears the ashes on your head, he will say something to the effect of: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
That phrase is what hit me the hardest out of anything last night. As I absorbed it, God spoke to me saying, yes you’re dust. But I live in that dust. Because I live in you, the dust (you) has life in it.
For some reason, God is pleased to put his spirit inside of us. He chooses to places life and the ability to spread that life in something as insignificant as dust, as people. While Ash Wednesday is a reminder of our mortality, our sin, our shortcomings, it’s also a reminder to turn back to the one who breathes life into dust. Symbolically, the season of lent culminates with that very event of life breathed into the dead, as we celebrate Easter, or the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In this season we’re invited to turn back to Jesus, to turn back to the giver of life.