I used to find the ashes creepy. Everyone in this church will die. Every old person, young person, baby, and flower in this church will die. (I think all our flowers are real.) As they come down the steps, I would imagine their funerals. What will be said? Where will it be? Will a lot of people come? Who of all their family and friends will survive to mourn the loss? Where will they be buried or thrown to the winds?
That sounds depressing. This year, I also thought: what a relief. You may think your problems and your schedule and your angst are a big deal. You’re gonna die anyway. Ash Wednesday suggests you might compare your ego and your problems to the entire universe. Or, more colloquially, dude, give it a rest.
A hundred years ago, there was a completely different set of people at my church. A hundred years from now, if it’s still there, if people still think Ash Wednesday mass is valuable, the worshippers will be a completely different cast of characters. Something has held people to this ritual for centuries. Something has held people to these rituals on that very spot since 1898.
They were very important– helping build and maintain a church I love– and very unimportant– mostly forgotten, all dead and buried. I know they worried about work and money and their loved ones. And now they don’t have anything to worry about. They are said and done. They are ashes.