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Ash and Oil: Ash Wednesday

(Editor's note: This is the first of the Office of Social Justice's 2015 Lent devotions series--Ash and Oil: Remembering we are Dust, Leaning toward a New Creation. Join us by signing up here as we ponder the connections between Christ's walk to the cross, our mortality and sin, and creation's limitations.)

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19)

Today many of us will venture to our churches, approach the pastor, and allow her to place the sign of the cross on our foreheads. The ash is meant to remind us that we mourn. When marking a loss or death (like Job in his lament) or when repenting before God (like the people of Nineveh recognizing their sinfulness), it was a custom of our ancient fathers and mothers to cover themselves with ash.

The oil that makes the ash stick to our foreheads, though, is meant to remind us that we're healed. Oil is what the Good Samaritan used to treat the wounds of his beaten brother on the road to Jericho. It's what burns in the lamp in Exodus, bringing light to a people in darkness. In Leviticus, it's placed on the heads of those seeking cleansing and atonement.

It's fitting, then, that we begin the season of Lent this way - reminded both of loss and light. Of mourning and of healing. Of death and the promise of redemption. Journeying toward both Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

When wildfires burn in the southern United States or British Columbia, they destroy almost everything. The air turns black, forests and grasses and animals of all kinds are reduced to ash. Death is all around. And yet. Certain pinecones rely on the heat that comes only from a blistering wildfire to break open and release their seeds. New life can only come in the wake of destruction.

May this Lenten journey find us willing to be marked with ash - may we mourn the extinction of species, the desertification of land, the loss of forests and native plants, the ever-expanding dumps filled with the cast-off remnants of our consumption. We have a lot of repenting to do, and may our ash be mixed with oil, so that it will stick. But may we also find the ability to hope. We are a people marked by a promise, and that promise includes all of creation. New life is springing up. We are in good hands. The God who created us - out of ash - has promised not to let us go.

Pray: God, we remember that we are but ash. We confess that we have failed to love you and the rest of your creation in the way we should. Take our meager efforts and bring them to new life. Amen.

Take the next step: Walk, carpool, or take the bus to the Ash Wednesday service today. As you're marked with ash (carbon!) take the time to name and repent for your own use of carbon which is contributing to a warming planet.

[Image: Flickr user MTSOfan]

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