This is what I wrote for our Ash Wednesday Service at FBC...
Ash Wednesday is not my favorite day of the year.
Primarily because I hate getting dirty. I’m compulsive about washing my hands, I don’t dig in the dirt even to plant flowers, and I hate camping. So ashes smudged on my cleanly washed and moisturized forehead is not only an imposition, but a cramp in my cleanly routine.
Fortunately, that’s the point.
Lent is a dark time for the church: an unveiling of our dirty selves. As much as we may like to avoid the “s” word…(that being “sin”), it is, in reality, a key part of our existence. And so, as uncomfortable as it may feel, as a thoughtful, progressive, cathedral church with all our programs, buildings, services and love, we are still called to examine our sin. Lent calls us out of the world and into ourselves. Lent reminds us of our inadequacies and transgressions both communally and individually.
And so, in preparation for Lent we will not only get our foreheads dirty, but our fingers dirty too. At the front of the sanctuary are two sandboxes. If you’ll look in your bulletin, after we read Psalm 51 and then offer our Prayer of Repentance, we will come forward in the center aisle, forming two lines. And one by one, we will go forward, under the cross and with our fingers, write in the sand. Perhaps you will write what you will give up for Lent in an attempt to discipline yourself in worship. Perhaps you will write the name of the sin that keeps you from communing with Christ. Perhaps you will write the word of an experience that separates you from God even as you separate the letters in the sand. Together, but in private, we will write a word or draw a symbol of what grieves us, ails us or makes us ashamed.
And then we will wipe it away.
After you write your word in the sand, conscious of your contributions to depravity, so will you will take your hand and erase that word. Symbolically in the sand we remind ourselves of the power and presence of God to recreate our lives. We confess to God our sin, and we cry out to God to follow through on his promise to make us clean again.
And the God who created the first human being out of dust and dirt will be faithful to create you into your own fullness of being.
From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.