Lent 2020: Ash Wednesday

Stained glass window of Mary holding baby Jesus.
One of the windows at church today.

A few minutes before noon, Zoe and I walked across the one-way street where our Uber had let us out, and headed up the sloping ramp into the church. It was dark and cool and drafty in the sanctuary, the way it’s almost always dark and cool and drafty in 19th century brick, Episcopal churches, save for the hottest weeks in the midst of summer.

I grabbed a program with a purple square and cursive writing printed on it, and signaled for Z to follow me up the center aisle. I paused at the baptismal font to dip a finger in for holy water; finding just an empty glass bowl, I resumed walking. I pushed my rollator around the front pew, thankful that despite the dampness of the day, it wasn’t a bad neuro day. Z slid in and I followed, we both settling in on the burgundy cushions on top of the dark wooden pew.

Despite, or perhaps because of, being raised in a small, storefront Pentecostal church, and then spending most of my twenties belonging to a nondenominational church that held services in the auditorium of a local high school, I like going into churches like these, full of stained glass, candles, and ornate art. I have no doubt that it’s not at all necessary for worship or fellowship. I just like it. I like it so much in fact, that I found myself daydreaming, being snapped back to attention when a bell rang signifying the start of mass.

There was probably 15 of us, Z being the only kid in attendance (and she quite enjoyed the attention that bought). Father A, a dark chocolate man with a lean build and lilting Tobagonian accent, presided over the service, with a capable assist from an altar server who translated his words into Spanish.

Old Testament reading, and then a passage from Psalms, read responsively, then the New Testament, and finally, we all rose for the Gospel. Father A began his sermon, reminding us all what the point is- preparation for Easter. I glanced down at the program again, reading the cover: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

A few minutes later, I was at the altar rail, kneeling on some more wine-colored plushness, while my arms rested on the gold metal of the rail. Father A first made a smudgy black cross on Z’s forehead before doing the same on mine. He then quickly leaned close and said a prayer of healing and strength. I said “Amen” and then crossed myself, standing up and then saying my own prayer, this of continual thanks for my body’s positive neuro-behavior.

A bit later, there was another trip to the altar for Communion, and soon after that, mass ended. Glory be. On my way out, I pulled out my phone and snapped a pic of stained glass Mary and baby Jesus at the top. It’s no mistake that I have a depiction of Jesus at the start of his life as the featured image in a post about the start of the season marking his death. To be born is to start the clock on dying. We are dust, but we have always been dust, too- thus the “to dust you shall return“.

Join me, if you like, as we make the journey, day by day, towards the cross. Yes, closer to death. But, also, to eternal life.

Showing off our ashes.

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