“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect for Ash Wednesday, Book of Common Prayer)
When we receive the ashes on this first day of Lent, we acknowledge both our mortality and our need for repentance of sin and conversion of life. We’re not talking light stuff here. Needless to say, most of us don’t like thinking these things. I certainly don’t.
It’s easy to think of sin in terms of things we do that violate some rule. “Oh, I sinned when I did x, y, and z.” That certainly is part of it, but I also tend to think of it in larger terms. Let’s call it (big-S) Sin. It’s not so much an act as a state of being where we find ourselves separated (or apparently separated) from God. Sometimes it takes the form of particular actions or inactions. “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Other times it involves larger systemic and societal wrongs, especially when we ourselves benefit.
But somehow that doesn’t quite capture the full power of death and sin, “the evil that enslaves us.” There are times when we find ourselves trapped, unable to see God’s Light. It isn’t necessarily our own fault either. For example, I know all too well the hell of depression. It’s not simply about being really sad. It’s a disorder affecting one’s whole being – body, mind, and spirit. Being in the depths of depression is like being covered in a thick layer of volcanic ash.
Yet the ashes on Ash Wednesday are something different . . . (to be continued)