Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024

Posted by on Wed, Feb 14, 2024 in Lent, Sermons

Ash Wednesday

Feb. 14, 2024

Lent begins. This holy pilgrimage is part of the route to eternal and abundant life as promised by Jesus. When we engage in our Lenten pilgrimage deeply and attentively it might reveal things we didn’t notice were weighing us down or no longer serve us well. It’s like overpacking for a trip with one suitcase; you probably need to take out that full size steam iron and the espresso machine. Some baggage is too heavy and needlessly excessive, no matter how accustomed to having it around we have become.

There is real power and importance to this pilgrimage, and few people come to Ash Wednesday casually. We come because of the truth this liturgy tells, truth we will wear on our faces even, truth we know but don’t often speak aloud. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” We are human and we are mortal. We hear those words in our burial rite too.

The ashes of this truth is marked on the skin of our faces. Inescapable. In our gospel reading Jesus takes it further, reminding us that most everything becomes dust; our bodies, and whatever we acquire or earn or buy, our earthly treasures —moth, rust, thieves, and time itself will return it all to dust. Each Ash Wednesday we admit that we know it is so.

It is true, and not accidental or arbitrary. One of the creation stories in Genesis interprets our earthy created-ness; “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…” To say we are dust may have sounded devaluing, instead it now becomes a holy gift, loved into being by God. Marking our foreheads with that ashy cross says we continue as God’s beloved in our life and in our death, and in Christ’s promise of rising to eternal life. Our dust-to-dust pilgrimage of Christian life takes intention and we need help. Like asking for directions, even though some of us hate to do so. If you are in Seattle you can’t get back to Issaquah by going West, it’s the wrong way. Even if I stop and look around and say, “okay, I repent!” a hundred times it won’t help me get home unless I also turn around and go the right way. Today we immerse ourselves in a deeper awareness of our need to do so. We recommit to asking directions, and acting on them, to pause on this dust-to-dust pilgrimage, look to God, and then turn around as often as we need to.

The ashes placed on our foreheads with the sign of the cross is a reminder of our mortality, and that we make this journey with Christ. It’s truth is recalled when we inter the ashes of someone who has died. It is my practice (when possible) at a burial to remove the ashes of the one who has died from the plastic bag, and place them, by hand, into the urn or into the earth or waters. The family and close friends are always invited to share this, and people often have a strong resistance as well as a strong pull to touch the ashes with their hand. Such closeness makes us vulnerable and denies any illusion of distance, the reality that it has happened to someone we love and it will happen to us is right in front of us and on our fingers. We pray,
In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our [brother or our sister] and we commit [their] body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

The sign of the cross is made saying,
The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious to him, the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and give him peace. Amen.

Observing Ash Wednesday and Lent is a yearly call to remember all of this and a yearly call to recommit ourselves to walk with Christ throughout our lives. We are told once again to honor the discipline of self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving which help us turn ever closer to him. Many of us, take it as a time to review these three ways, and look at undertaking them in new ways. On Sunday we wrote a word or two about our intentions for this Lenten season, and before putting them away I went through and prayed each one. It was moving to see how very many of us seek to bring God‘s peace in this world and in our own hearts, and how many hope to love and listen to God more closely. I had a splendid moment imagining God reading over my shoulder and nodding appreciatively. Ah yes, they do know the truth, that where their treasure is, their hearts will be also.

© 2024 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 12:00 PM on Sat., Feb. 14, 2026.