There is something rich and mysterious about a corporate Ash Wednesday service; about joining together with strangers and friends and together saying:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”
We come from construction sites, or our home offices, capitol hill, or a cubical in Rosslyn. We file into pews early, on time, late. We exhale.
This is the time to remember. To “worthily lament our sins.” The sanctuary is dark. Darker than it could be. People fidget in their seats. “Acknowledging our wretchedness” is not an easy task. But it is good. And so we remember.
We think on the lies and deception, the lust, greed, and envy, the slander, the anger, the hate. We remember the sins of omission: the grace not extended, the kind word held back, the poor slighted, the widow ignored.
Amidst these accusers, a voice: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Short. Short like a canyon. Short like a chasm. Like the other side of the ocean, like the distance to the sun. Fallen short. How true this is. How arrogant am I to presume on God’s kindness? To think that perhaps I am not so far gone?
But I am so far gone.
I need this day, these words. I need a “new and contrite heart”, for mine is heavy and failing.
I need this place, these people. I am not alone. I am no better, no worse. “We [all], worthily lament our sins” just as “[we] all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
And I need this sign, these ashes. I need the instruction, on my own head, to “remember that you are dust, and to dust shall you return.”
Even my best efforts are dust. But “Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns” has redeemed me. He has paid for my lust, my anger, my sloth, my greed. It is on his head so that I might “obtain…perfect remission and forgiveness.”
Thanks be to God.