Ash Wednesday and Easter
Ash Wednesday is integral to the celebration of the whole season of Lent and Easter. There are two sets of words which accompany the receiving of the ashes. The first is “Remember you are dust and unto dust you will return”, the other is “Repent and believe the gospel”. Each of these emphasises a different aspect of the whole season. This week we will look at the first formula.
“Remember you are dust and unto dust you will return” goes back all the way to the Book of Genesis at the beginning of our Bibles. In chapter 2, verse 7, we find “The Lord God shaped man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils and man became a living being.” So the words used on Ash Wednesday recall this image of God creating us from the dust of the earth. But God also breathes the breath of life into us and we become living beings. Ash Wednesday’s formula reminds us that we are made of the earth. But it takes us into a season which culminates with Easter and concludes with Pentecost. At Pentecost, we celebrate the new giving of the breath of life, the Spirit of God who is given us to make of us truly living beings, beings over whom death has no final power. At Pentecost, God breathes into us again that new Breath of life who is the Holy Spirit.
This Spirit is the gift of the Risen lord. On that first day of the week, when the disciples discovered the empty tomb, the Lord came among them and he breathed on them, saying among other things “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:19-23).
On Ash Wednesday, as we receive the ashes on our foreheads, let us see that action within the whole context of the long season of the ninety days which make up Lent and Easter. It is a celebration of the God who is not only the fountain of life within us but the God who seeks to bring us yet more fully alive in union with Jesus Christ and by the power of his gift of the Spirit within us.
By Fr Frank O’Loughlin