Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and we had the ritual of imposition of ashes. It is the first time in my life. In the previous week the lecturer taught us about "Worship and Rituals" and he specifically explained to us the meaning of imposition of ashes.
I will share with you first the meaning of ritual. According to my lecturer, Rev. Dr. Truscott, ritual is "a prescribed, customary set of words and actions meant to convey religious or cultural meaning."
Regarding imposition of ashes, he mentioned that it signifies mourning and repentance. Here are some biblical basis that he quoted:
"When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry." (Esther 4:1)
"Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes." (Daniel 9:3)
He further mentioned that this ritual is often considered outdated from the modern perspective and that some consider it strange that we ritualize "repentance". But he argued that the strangeness is precisely what makes it a powerful symbol for Christians. He further argued that it is true that we should not revive old rituals for their own sake but neither should we dismiss a ritual because it seems old-fashioned. He told us to consider: we read sacred texts from times and place we do not understand and whose language and thought patterns are alien to us yet we believe God speak to us in the ancient texts!
He also explained that this ritual reminds us that we are strangers and pilgrims on earth (liminality) and that we are seeking the kingdom.
Okay... enough lecture! If you want to know more about it you can just google it :p
So... yesterday I take part in this ritual. I found it meaningful that I want to share it here.
While placing the ashes on my forehead, the minister (which is also my family group mentor) said,
"Ita, remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return".
I don't know why, but I was surprised. I knew that the minister would say THAT sentence, but when he really said it, I was quite taken aback. I tried to calm myself and went back to my seat. That one sentence kept resonating in my head. I realised that God was speaking to me personally through what the minister told me and through the ritual.
He reminds me of His amazing grace and depth of mercy. Come on! Get real! Who am I? I was nothing! Dust! Rebel! Yet God sent his Son to die for me!
He reminds me that I am mortal, that my time on earth will come to an end, that my life is full of limitation, yet He called me to do His work. What can be better than that to spend my remaining years on earth!
Honestly, I tried hard to fight back tears. I don't deserve it, God. It's all You.
"Rituals express divine truth"
-Rev. Dr. Truscott-