Reformation Lutheran Church A Congregation of the ELCA

ASH WEDNESDAY, February 18
Read Genesis 3

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust and to dust you shall return. (v 19)


Sometime in the mid-1990s, I went directly from the Ash Wednesday service at Reformation to Dillons. As I walked through the aisles, I got a few second looks. Some people looked at me with puzzlement, others with understanding. To some, the cross of ashes is a mystery; to others, it has much meaning. For me, at the time, it meant an acknowledgment of my human frailty and mortality, as the words of Genesis indicate. When I got home and looked in the mirror, the cross was still visible. I washed it off without giving it much more thought.

Ten years passed before I led my first worship service in the Montana congregation I had been called to serve. It was Ash Wednesday. This time I was the one marking heads with the cross of ashes. After I got home that evening and looked in the mirror, the cross of ashes was still there, and I realized it had come to mean more to me than simply the acknowledgment of my human frailty and mortality.

When I looked at that visible cross of ashes, it brought to mind the other — invisible — crosses that have been marked on my forehead throughout my life. The first mark came with the rite of baptism, when I was “sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” I was named and claimed as one of God’s beloved and forgiven children. The same cross was traced on my forehead again when I affirmed my baptism. I am reminded of that truth every time I dip my finger into the font and mark a cross over that same place. I hope that when I near life’s end, the cross is traced on my head one last time as I transition from this life to the next.

This Ash Wednesday, my forehead will once again be marked with a cross of ashes, and I will hear the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” But I will hear other words as well. I will hear, “Child of God, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever” and, along with the visible mark of ashes, I will see the invisible fingerprint of God on my forehead where he has written “forgiven.” I invite you to see and hear the same promise of hope in the cross of ashes.

The Rev. Cheryl Hoops Interim Pastor


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