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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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