It’s Ash Wednesday. I put on my ministerial robe 15 minutes before the traditional Service that marks the beginning of Lent with the imposition of ashes and go the drawer of the credenza.
“They’re missing! Where are the ashes?!”
Every year I store the ashes in the credenza in my office. I’ve forgotten that we’d moved the credenza from my office last fall. I rush downstairs to look for it. No credenza anywhere. Then…I remember. We sold it at the Annual Fall Festival!
“Somebody has our ashes!”
What to do with no ashes? Burn some newspapers? Smoke a cigar and use the ashes? No time.
I grab a pitcher and pour water into the baptism font.
We begin the Service with the story of the missing ashes. Smiles break out everywhere. Maybe even with signs of relief. “Instead of the imposition of ashes this year, we will go to the font for the waters of baptism, the waters of the renewal of life.”
We have some fun justifying the change in the Service, focusing on the that part of the Gospel text for the day – the words of Jesus himself. “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen my others….But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret…”(Mt. 6:16-18).
People come to the font, one-by-one, for “the Imposition of … [Water]”. I dip my hand into the font. “Pat, (making the sign of the cross on her forehead), “Dust to dust; ashes to ashes. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. You are a child of God. Live in this peace.”
After the Service is over, one of the worshipers asks whether anyone has done the same for me. She reaches her hand into the font. “Gordon, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Remember…You are a child of God…..”
I’ll never forget it. Neither will they. And somewhere in this world a stranger has a credenza with a sack full of ashes. Whoever you are, feel free to keep them. They’re all yours.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 10, 2016 – a memoir from 2012 at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN