A reflection for Ash Wednesday, preached at Wesley Memorial/Wesley Foundation during today’s worship services with imposition of ashes.
I tried to click on a web page this week and the browser came up with a blank white screen and only these words, small, at the very top: “Too many connections.”
It was the first time I’d seen this particular computer communiqué and it left me wondering. What does “too many connections” mean? Too many links on the page to which I was navigating and it didn’t know how to choose the one I wanted to connect with? Too many other people just dying to get onto the Ministry Matters website right at that very moment?
I still don’t know what it meant and, after a few minutes, the site came up as normal again. But it’s a good image for starting Lent.
We are a culture of “too many connections.” When’s the last time you asked someone how they were and they didn’t respond with some version of “crazy busy!”? Too much on my plate…too many irons in the fire…not enough hours in the day…
And yet, the season of Lent calls us to pour out some of the fullness and voluntarily empty ourselves. Lent calls us to clear away that which clutters our ability to connect with God. Lent calls us to reflection and prayer and renewed spiritual focus, which is exceedingly hard to do when you have too many connections.
So we bring it back down to basics. Back down to earth. Right back to where we started.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This is what Ed and I will be saying as you come forward to receive the ashes in a few minutes. It’s a weird thing to say. It’s an odd thing, on an ordinary Wednesday, to have someone smudge your forehead and remind you of death and dust.
But it’s also comforting. It reminds us that God formed us out of regular, ordinary, everyday earth and that one day our bodies will go back to the earth again. It reminds us that we aren’t superior to or set apart from creation but part of it, connected.
Artist-writer-pastor Jan Richardson says it so beautifully in her blessing for Ash Wednesday (The Painted Prayerbook, “Blessing the Dust”). She says the ashes remind us that we are:
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
You’ll head out into Lent today marked with ashes, claimed and called by God. The way leads to wilderness, through death to life. Stick with it.
You might be tempted to pack too much for this journey, to take along too many connections, so to speak. Resist.
Take only what you really need and rest in the knowledge that God can and will provide the rest along the way.
Thanks be to God!
photo credit: public domain