In the messiness and brokenness of the world, God’s love wins
■ Erin Armstrong / Contributed
By a quirk of how the church calendar intersects with the secular calendar, Wednesday, Feb. 14 is both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. While most of the world will be showering their beloved with roses and dining by candlelight, the Christian Church will be gathering as it has for more than 1,000 years to proclaim, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
You might be wondering, “Why ashes? Why dust? Seems pretty messy…” The importance of ashes and dust comes almost immediately in the story of creation: “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7). God was not afraid to get a little messy in creating life, and we know that life continues to be a little messy. When we mark the beginning of Lent with ashes, we remember that life is always a little messy, and yet, God is always there with us.
Ashes are also used throughout scripture as a sign of mourning. Ancient Jewish funeral rituals often included having mourners wear sackcloth sprinkling ashes on their head and sitting in them. Such a practice gave physical manifestation of an emotional experience. Later, sackcloth and ashes were also a sign of repentance, and showed that one wanted their lives to turn around—“When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” (Jonah 3:6).
The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being”
– Genesis 2:7
For Ash Wednesday, the ashes we place on our foreheads represent all these levels of meaning. We begin the Lenten season recognizing that God is our creator, and ultimately the one who is in charge. We mourn a world that is not in line with God’s vision, and that sin continues to grasp us. And we repent of the ways in which we willfully turn away from God and from one another. We begin the season with the hope that we can do better, and trust that even when we fail, God will be there to breathe life into us once again.
The more I’ve thought about this day, the more I appreciate how the calendars have collided in this year. Yes, we are dust. Yes, we are sinners in need of repentance. Yes, we live in a broken world. And we are loved. Deeply. Completely.
Ash Wednesday helps us begin a season of Lent, but we know that at the end of the season, we will hear and relive the story of a God, who dies on a cross, and then is resurrected to new life. In the messiness and brokenness of the world, God’s love wins.
So no matter what your Feb. 14 plans may be, I pray that it marks a time where you can remember that in the dustiness of life, God in Christ Jesus sees and loves you.
Pastor Erin Armstrong is the Senior Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA). They are located at 191 S. Columbia St., Hemet with worship at 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. every Sunday. Ash Wednesday services are at noon and 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Check out their website www.trinityhemet.org for more learning, worship and fellowship opportunities.