Each year I would call a friend a couple of days before Ash Wednesday. I would remind her to warn her office mates. Many in her office were unfamiliar with Ash Wednesday. If they were aware of it, they were not aware that the president of the company always attended an early service. He would receive a very obvious cross on his forehead. He would not wash the cross off. Therefore, encountering the boss was encountering him with a large black cross on his forehead. Warning the other employees was for their sake. It was hard not to stare at the boss’ forehead. It was the first indication co-workers would have about the boss’ active participation in worship. He never discussed the mark on his head. He never discussed faith.
My friend would explain that this was a mark of the sinful nature of all people, including he boss. It was a statement about the finiteness of life and the need for God. Some would readily agree with the sinfulness of their boss. Others would just nod. Still others would say, why?
While I cannot answer questions for that man, I can tell you my understanding of the ashes of ash Wednesday. We need a reminder. We need a visible reminder that we cannot do I on our own. We need help. We need God. We need God’s grace, poured out particularly in the person of Jesus. We need to be brought back from our ideas that life is about us, that we can handle our lives, and that we are in control. We need God. Being marked reminds us of our dependence.
It also reminds us that we were already marked. We were marked as God’s own during our baptism. When the water of baptism is administered, a person is visibly marked as God’s own. While the water dries, the mark of God on our life still remains. We are loved by God. We are children of God.
The outward sign of God’s grace may no longer be visible, but God’s grace is still with us. The ashes may only be visible for a short while, but our need for God remains. Remember that you are dust, but you are saved by grace.