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Up from the Ashes

posted Apr 5, 2014, 5:08 PM by Nikki   [ updated Apr 5, 2014, 5:21 PM ]

One of my salient memories from childhood is of a house not far from where we lived burning to the ground one night.  I remember distinctly hearing the fire sirens and the five of us and all of our neighbors rushing out into the night to watch as the flames quickly engulfed the wooden structure as we and the family to whom the home belonged watched it burned to the ground.

I had to pass by every day on my way to school and I was haunted by the site of the ash pile standing sentinel over the ruin the fire had wrought.  In the first forty eight hours or so you could still see wisps of smoke rise up into the air, tell-tale signs of the fire that was not far away.

Gradually the rains came and tamped down the ash and for weeks it appeared that all that was left was a pile of gray and white and black ash, a charred timber here or there giving some slight signal that once here had stood a home full of life and hope and a future.  I remember quite distinctly one day poking around amongst the ash, something that had become a favorite past time of mine and jumping back at the site of pale green shoots of grass that were beginning to emerge at its very edges.  And as the spring unfolded that year I watched as the earth came forth in abundance with grasses and flowers reclaiming what had once been dead; a new creation, a new future being born right before my eyes.

This is the story of Ash Wednesday, a day when we are invited to step fully into the ashes of death, to allow the specter of our mortality to lay claim on us trusting that God has already laid claim on our immortality.  When we come to be marked by the dark black oily ashes of last year’s palms we come with the admittance that we are but dust, but also with the acknowledgment that it is from ashes that God created and still creates.

All of us have times when there is nothing left but ashes.  Maybe you are rising from the ashes of an abusive relationship, finding your way into the first green shoots of new and abundant life.  Perhaps you are finding your way through the dust storm of addiction, maybe the ashes that you see are the soft powdery kind that fill an urn you simply can’t believe holds all that is left of someone you loved, a beloved mother or father or husband or wife or lover or friend.  Maybe all you can see right now is the pile of dark smoldering ash that is left where once there had been life and hope and future.

But we are promised that there will be life; abundant life.  Come join us, won’t you this Ash Wednesday as we entrust ourselves to the message of hope that is found in the midst of ashes and dust, for just as we are told we are but dust and we shall return to the dust we are also told that it is from dust that God drew us together and breathed life, abundant life into each of us.  And so it will come to be again.

--The Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis