2018-02-21 - Ashes
Last week I attended a Catholic Mass service on Ash Wednesday. It was spiritually uplifting and fascinating to me. I did some reading about how the services generally progress, due to the fact I had only previously attended a wedding and a few funeral services in a Catholic church setting. My Granny, by way of my step-dad, had been a member of St. Andrews for many years, until she gave up doing her own personal transport to worship. She was a welcoming, caring, thoughtful, kind and spiritually generous woman. At the time I met her, I was suddenly living in a new place that had been her home for many years. Her manner of care made it more like becoming part of something, instead of having to leave my whole world behind. She would sacrifice privacy to people just introduced to her, and allow them in her home for transition periods of time, because her heart told her they were family. Sometimes they were bloodline family, sometimes adopted by marriage family, sometimes neighbors’ kids when they just needed a place to crash for a few days before their next phase in life, etc. Granny and her brother became orphaned as children, when they lost their parents. Life was not easy, yet to spend time with her, you would never get an inkling of that in her spirit. She just exuded the earlier qualities mentioned: she was welcoming, caring, thoughtful, kind and spiritually generous. And beneath that description was her faith. A faith that was boldly evident even in her gentle manner of caring for her anyone who met her. We had many thoughtful discussions about faith, and they were not confined to the parameters of denomination at all. They centered on God and his son Jesus, and how much we relied on faith. I was honored to share time with her over a period of a couple decades. The day she passed away, her heart was led to do two specific things to begin her day: Ash Wednesday Mass and a little work in her garden. Those ended up being the last things she did that day, on earth anyway. The sign of the cross ashes still remained on her forehead from that morning service.
After the Mass I attended, I, too, was left with the remnants of ashes on my own forehead, symbolizing the need for repentance by me for any transgressions keeping distance between me and my maker, particularly focusing on it for Lent. Also, the ashes are a reminder of how I will return to the dust from which I was formed by God. Underneath the dust is a promise of returning to God, as I claim him my Savior. It is a promise Granny held fast to, right up until her last moment on earth, and it is what I also hold fast to as I continue on my journey of faith.
I studied the context of the word ashes in Job 30:19 “ He hath cast me into the mire, and I am become like dust and ashes.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance notes in this passage the word is the Hebrew Epher, with the unused root meaning to bestrew; ashes. Bestrew defined by Merriam Webster online: to cover by or as if by scattering something over or on. This entire chapter is Job sharing a sorrowful description (Companion Bible 1990) about his present misery. In verses fifteen and sixteen, he says “Terrors are turned upon me: they pursue my soul as the wind: and my welfare passeth away as a cloud. And now my soul is poured out upon me; the days of affliction have taken hold upon me.” The word soul here, Nephesh, is in the context of man exercising certain feelings and affections (Companion Bible appendix 13, page20) so; by the time he gets to verse nineteen, he’s giving a visual of how his feelings are like mud turned to ashes. Job is feeling abandoned and seems to have struggled with any personal transgressions that may have added to him feeling defeated and overtaken by disease as well as personal family loss. He shares he has as much substance as the ashes he knows he will return to at some point. Considering the fact he ends up restored beyond measure in the end, it’s clear to me that God does not think Job failed in his mission. In fact, I believe the purpose of Job’s story is to show us victory, not defeat. Obtaining God’s victory will lead us down roads that at times can feel like our own failure or even that God has left us alone. What we see as human beings is failure and loss. What God likely sees is opportunities for growth. And we can only do that if we are like clay that can be molded. As we are molded, we will be reminded of our inadequacies without him, but then our power with him as it comes from him and strengthens us. It’s about what he can do with us, for us, because of his love for us. He wants to fully restore all of us as he did Job, and he promised it beyond this life, but into eternity.
The plan is beauty for ashes. “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3) This is the reason we are here.
“Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philemon 1:3 KJV)
All scripture references are from the King James Version (KJV) unless otherwise noted.