Ash Wednesday, the first Wednesday following Transfiguration Sunday, was celebrated within the Christian church last week. The commencement of a 40-day period of preparation for Easter.
We held a time of worship at the Milton offices of the LCAQD. It, like most elements of our lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was not a typical time of worship. A small group of us were in the Boardroom on level 3 preparing for a meeting in a socially distanced manner. Others came in through video-conferencing technology to join from the other floors in the building. And it was led by David Schmidt, Director of Ministry & Mission from his car not far out of Dalby.
But most of all, it was different in that it was free of the ashes synonymous with the day. The ashes from burning the palm leaves used on the previous year’s Palm Sunday are traditionally applied in the form of a cross on the temple (or wrist) with the words:
Dust you are and to dust you shall return’ (Genesis 3:19)
In a time where personal hygiene is paramount and constant hand washing is encouraged, it is somewhat ironic that ashes which were used as a substitute for soap for hundreds if not thousands of years by humans is unable to be applied during the pandemic.
Nonetheless, the absence of ashes does not change the day or its meaning to Christians the world over.
Ashes symbolise several aspects of our human existence:
- Ashes remind us of God’s condemnation of sin. God said to Adam, ‘Dust you are and to dust you shall return’ (Genesis 3:19).
- Ashes suggest cleansing and renewal. On Ash Wednesday ashes are a substitute for water as a reminder of our baptism.
- Ashes remind us of the brevity of human life. Burial services often include the words ‘Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.’
- Ashes are a symbol of our need to repent, confess our sins, and obey God.
As we, the staff, and the children/young adults in our schools and QLECS services prepare for Easter, may the absence of ashes this year not diminish our Christian message that we have already be cleansed of our sins through the death and resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.