Everett Lees, the priest at Christ Church Tulsa, has a great blog post about Ashes to Go. For those who don't know, Ashes to Go is all the rage in The Episcopal Church. A priest will go out into the public square (train station, etc.) on Ash Wednesday and offer ashes, with the traditional words, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." People who don't have time to go to church that morning - or who forgot it was Ash Wednesday, or who have no idea what Ash Wednesday even is - have the chance to get their ashes and experience a holy moment.
Everett disagrees with the concept of Ashes to Go, and I agree with Everett. Go and read his blog post - I'll wait.
And now that you've read what Everett has to say, here's what I want to add. Taking the gospel to the streets is a great thing, and I applaud it, and I appreciate what those who do Ashes to Go are doing, and their reasons for doing it. I just don't agree with it.
I love Everett's ideas for how to take the gospel out into the world, such as foot-washing to go, healing to go, etc. I can imagine me, back in the old days, having forgotten my Christian upbringing in the hustle and bustle of my business career, being touched by God in an unexpected way during my morning commute or whatever, and feeling grateful.
But Ash Wednesday? Surely there are more enlightening ways to touch people with God's grace. Leaving aside the facts Everett points out - that this quick "ashing" comes without repentance, and directly countermands what Jesus tells us to do in the Ash Wednesday gospel - that is, don't wear your piety on your forehead for all to see and congratulate, but practice it quietly - there are other problems. After all, what is the most immediate experience of getting "ashed"? It is a reminder of our mortality: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Really? If we are going to touch a person with the Christian message once in an entire year, that's how we want to do it? With a reminder of our mortality?
Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite holy days of the year. But Ash Wednesday makes sense only at the beginning of a season that ends with Easter. Lent begins with a reminder of our mortality, the dust that our bodies will become, but it ends with a tomb that is not dusty, but empty. We Christians are not death people - we are resurrection people. We are people who proclaim that God loves us, forgives us, and desires that we should cast off our sins and live.
Let's take the Easter message to the streets. Let's repent of our sins and acknowledge our mortality, surrounded by the love of a church community. And then let's proclaim resurrection from the housetops, to go. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."