Florida & Ashes: It’s supposed to be a symbol, not a sign
Yesterday morning many people stopped by their local church to have ashes placed on their foreheads. As the mark of the cross was made, the following words were spoken, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” It is a thought-provoking phrase that sends us on our Lenten journeys.
The mark of the ashes is intended to be a symbol. It is a symbol of the precious value of our lives and each day we have to live. It is a symbol that we have a place to go to find healing. It is a symbol that the pains of our past can die, and we can move into a new future. It is a symbol of hope because God can breathe new life into the ashes of our lives.
However, yesterday it seemed the hope found in the ashes in the morning was overshadowed by a tragedy in the afternoon. Seventeen people were killed at a school in Florida—the eighteenth school shooting this year. As I watched this unfold I saw a woman in the news wailing near the school, and she bore a cross of ashes on her forehead. Before this tragedy unfolded, she had heard the words, “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” Little did she know she would move from the mark of ashes to a massacre.
As we consider what all of this means, one thing is clear: we must not become complacent because it’s become commonplace. There are people grieving and suffering, and it becomes all too easy to forget them… forgetting to pray, forgetting their pain. We must remember and pray for them, entering into their pain with them.
We also cannot let the mark of ashes move from a symbol of hope to a sign of the inevitable. The ashes are not a sign of resignation that we can’t change things, nor are they a sign that absolves us from facing the challenges before us. They are a symbol of hope that proclaims change is possible and challenges can be overcome. The ashes we bore yesterday are a symbol today that increases our resolve to work toward ending this needless violence. May God breathe new life into the ashes of our lives and use us to effect change.