“Thank you all so much for doing this.”

“I don’t feel comfortable going to church, but I want to receive ashes.”

“Wait, that’s today?”

It turns out you get a broad range of reactions from folks when you stand in the cold, early morning air, wearing vestments and smudging ashes on strangers’ foreheads. Reactions run the gamut. You get everything from gratitude to guilt, to tears, fear, joy. This morning was my third time offering Ashes to Go at the King Street Metro Station. Every year, I find it to be a profound and humbling experience - largely because of this range of reactions.

On Ash Wednesday, we repent from our sins and acknowledge our mortality. No matter what we do or how important we think we are, each of us will, eventually, die. No wonder Ash Wednesday often makes people uncomfortable: it’s supposed to. Today, we’re reminded of our place in the created order. Ash Wednesday isn’t about guilt or shame, but rather, it’s an invitation to acknowledge our limits. It’s only by remembering our mortality that we begin to understand the magnitude of God’s grace.

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We are all broken. We all sin and, eventually, we will all die. But each of us has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. We stand, confident in the fierce love of God, who is more powerful than sin and death.

Every year I come to Ash Wednesday with the same range of mingled, contradictory emotions I find in the people we meet while offering Ashes to Go: anxiety, joy, despair, gratitude, hope. I need this yearly reminder not to take myself too seriously. I need to be told, again, that I am not in charge. And yet I do so, confident in the redemptive power of God in Jesus.

I am mortal and God is God. And thanks be to God for that.

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