Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ashes and Palms: Ash Wednesday--Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

(Listen to this homily here).

            I learned something new this week.  I’m just curious—do you know where we get the ashes for our Ash Wednesday service?  I had a vague notions that palms were burned to make the ashes but I had always they were ordered in from somewhere else.
            Yesterday students and parishioners gathered in our parking lot to burn the blessed palms from last year.  After the fire went out and things cooled off, the ashes were put in a strainer and then mashed to get the ashes we have before us. 
            The palms and ashes have stood out to me as we begin Lent.  They act as bookends to this season.  Today we will be signed with ashes in the shape of a cross and reminded, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”  In about six weeks, we will receive palms to commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  These two physical symbols—ashes and palms—frame the Lenten season.
            But think of these symbols in another way—the palms and ashes frame the rest of the year.  Start with the palms we receive on Palm Sunday—they are fresh, green and supple.  As the year goes on they begin to dry out, decay and become brittle.  Eventually they are burned to form the ashes.
            That’s a lot like our own life, isn’t it?  We begin with youthfulness and zeal.  As time goes on our very bodies get sore, tired, brittle and sick.  At the end, every one will die.  The palms are a great metaphor for our own life on earth.
            Lent is a time to die to ourselves.  This is why we give something up, and focus on our prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  The point is to enter into the great mystery of our faith—the Paschal Mystery—in which dying leads to rising.  Jesus’ death led to life for all.  Our own sacrifices have the potential to give life to others.
            I pray you have a blessed season of Lent and that by dying to yourself you may provide much life.

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