Sunday, February 06, 2005

Ash Wednesday

These are notes for a sermon I preached on Ash Wednesday after 9/11

As I was looking at resources for Ash Wednesday I came upon the United Methodist Church
website and saw in bold letters:
WARNING - ashes and water do not mix - will cause burning!!

And so it does. It makes a mixture that will burn skin. But the image captured my imagination and I thought it is even truer than the physical effects of mixing ash and water. Water and ashes are two of our most powerful symbols.
Water, used for Baptism where we are first marked with the sign of the cross representing birth, new life, renewal, and liberation from slavery.
Today is Ash Wednesday, when we are once again marked with the sign of the cross, now representing our mortality, death, endings, and enslavement.
Burning, to me symbolizes the power of the Spirit coming alive in our lives, the awareness of our finite time on this earth and the power of the resurrection combine to light the fire of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Ashes bring home the reality of death -- we are mortal, we will die. This year we are even more aware of the meaning of ashes as we saw the terror of September 11. As we say in the imposition of ashes - "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." But that is not the end of the story. Easter tells us that there is not just death and endings. Easter comes to tell us that we are also to “remember that we are love and to love we will return.”
Let us consider Lent as journey from today - Ash Wednesday. Recognizing our finite time here on earth, journeying to Easter and coming back to the awareness of the fullness of life as granted in our creation in the image of God.
I have always thought the Ash Wednesay Gospel was odd for the imposition of Ashes. We hear that we should not practice our piety in public but perhaps we take this so seriously we become afraid of practicing any piety before others and yet...
The prophet, Joel, calls to us -- “Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the aged, gather the children, even infants at the breast and why -- so people will not ask “where is their God?” Let us show forth the holiness of our creator, so people will know that we are a holy people - commited to God and followers of Jesus Christ.
How might we do this? I suggest we move beyond chocolate to declare our own fast ---
Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love
What will be your fast? What will be your feast?

(Litany: h/t to PB Arthur Lichtenberger - expanded)


Anonymous said...

To Ann Fontaine:

I would guess from it's context in your Feb. 6, 2005 Ash Wednesday blog entry that you are the author of the "Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion...." content thereof.

If so, would you please so advise me so that I may properly recognize authorship in our order of worship for February 25, 2007? ... That's assuming that you are the author and would be so kind as to grant us permission to use it.

I saw the "fast/feast" piece on the back of a 2006 Ash Wednesday service bulletin where it was reproduced with the notation of "author unknown". I found you by doing an internet search on the first lines.

Thank you for your help.
Gaye G. Benson, pastor
El Sobrante (CA) UMC
E-mail to:

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Thanks for directing me to this post as well.

"Ashes and water cause burning." It really makes you think about the terror in New York City on September 11.

If you don't mind, I'll link to this on my theology blog at

You are a wonderful writer!

doris said...

The Feast/Fast piece is by Rt. Rev. Arthur J. Lictenberger who was Bishop of Missouri from 1952-1959 and Presiding Bishop from 1959-1964

Ann said...

Thanks for the citation, Doris-- I actually wrote this myself but perhaps dredged it up out of some unconscious place in the memory banks.