The reading from Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians excerpts a longer passage about our ministry as reconcilers. As Christ has reconciled the world to God in his life, death and resurrection - so we are to be about the ministry of reconciliation. In the catechism (BCP p. 855) we are asked what is the ministry of the laity (the baptized)?
The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take
their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.
But what is reconciliation? The Latin word implies bringing (back) into a circle, the Greek katalasso (as used by Paul) speaks of being changed/changing -- specifically changed from being opponents, adversaries, enemies to being friends,compañeros, sisters and brothers in one body. According to Paul, in Christ, God has been reconciling the world to God. And now this is the ministry of all who have been reconciled. (thanks to Paula Jackson)
We are called to enlarge the circle so all know they are within the arms of God - beloved sons and daughters, and to include all of creation. The ashes symbolize the fact that we all come from the same matter -- dust or stardust as I prefer - all of creation is one. In a circle there is no power differential - all are equal, no up/down, near/far, in/out. The circle gets broken with wars, abuse, poverty, prejudice but we are called to be menders and repairers of the fabric of life. The Greek word drives this point even further. How can we live into a world where adversaries, opponents, and enemies become friends, sisters and brothers? We start with those around us. We, as attributed to Gandhi - we become the change we want to see. Not becoming doormats - that is not what is required, but by understanding our own beloved worthiness -- and standing for that - not with violence but with love.
So receive the ashes and remember....