Sunday, February 28, 2016

Two Sons: How Will the Story End?

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

There was a man who had two sons...

It is "fiction," of course. Or at least it is not "the truth" in the ways we are most accustomed to thinking of "truth."

For we are told right up front that Jesus is telling stories now.

And yet, the characters, the scenario, the family dynamics, are so familiar to us, it is real.

And it is true in all the ways that matter, of course, for in one way or another we have lived this story. From one viewpoint or another, this experience is ours.

This also must have been so for Jesus' first listeners. Only they, perhaps more than many of us, held close a whole lot of other stories passed down from generation to generation. Stories of other fathers and other sons...

Think, for instance, of Isaac and Esau and Jacob.

Remember all those sons of Jacob --- especially Joseph --- second to the youngest of that clan.

And surely, don't forget David, who was the youngest of seven or eight sons of Jesse.

Again and again, the Biblical witness offers us stories of fathers and sons.

So when Jesus began to paint the picture we hear again today? It must have seemed 'true' to them as well. Indeed, not only could they also probably identify with the characters Jesus offers, his first listeners probably could not help but remember all those other fathers and all those other sons. Indeed, given the story lines of these legends who populated their memories and their imaginations, one might expect they immediately anticipated that the drama would play out around the story of the younger son.

As is surely so in the story before us now.

These are not perfect parallels, of course. And yet, in more than one of these instances, the younger son in the scenario strayed as well.

  • We know well the story of Jacob and his need to flee his brother Esau's wrath after having cheated him out of his birthright. 
  • We are well acquainted with Joseph and his tendency to lord his father's favoritism over his older brothers. 
  • And oh, who can forget not only David's profound gifts, but also his profound failures?
And we know this as well. Eventually, each and all of them found their way back home --- either literally or figuratively. Just like the younger son in the story before us now. And somehow in their returning? Each and all of them were living examples of the power and the grace of God.

As again, is the case in the story before us now.

To be sure, one might expect that those who first heard Jesus tell this story would have been flooded by these memories of other fathers and sons. Especially other youngest sons.

And yet, even with this, it is still the case that many of us still identify with the older son, of course. I mean, clearly, it was at those who related to the older son that this story is targeted, for at the beginning of the chapter we are reminded of the grumbling of the faithful: the Pharisees and the scribes --- who were voicing their distress that "this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
Oh yes, it is aimed at all of us who have forgotten it was really the power of God at work in the likes of Jacob and Joseph and David. That they, and surely we, could not by any means be called 'righteous' all on our own.

Over the past week I have been reading Jeanne Bishop's story in her book, Change of Heart. In it she relays the horrific story of the murder of her sister, brother-in-law, and unborn child by a high school student named David Bier who was then just shy of his eighteenth birthday. More than that, she offers her own, now thirty year long story of movement from profound brokenness to healing.

Indeed, she speaks specifically of her own coming first to a place where forgiveness was possible and finally, towards reconciliation with the man who forever changed her life and that of her family. And it is clear that this journey is rooted and grounded in, shaped and directed by her faith. In fact, as she comes face to face with her own need for reconciliation, she draws upon the story before us now. She points to it in her first attempt to reach out to David Bier when she writes him a letter where shes says:
You and I are no different in the eyes of God. I am someone who has fallen short and hurt God's heart; I have sinned, to use that Biblical word, just as you have. You are a child of God, created in God's image, just as I am. God loves you every bit as much as me; nothing you have done could ever stop God from loving you. The division I have made between us --- you, guilty murderer, me, innocent victims' family member --- was a false divide. I was wrong to do that.

The only thing that could possibly pay for the loss of Nancy, her husband and their baby is this nearly-impossible thing: that you would make your way home to God, the way the Prodigal Son in one of Jesus' parables finds his way home.
It is not exactly the same, of course. There is no grisly murder in the story Jesus tells. There is, however, profound brokenness in the relationship the two brothers share as the older one feeds his own sense of self righteousness, which has been been building for probably his entire life. Oh yes, the resulting deep resentment appears to have one seeing himself as "fundamentally different from the other." As better, somehow. As more deserving, more worthy.

Now part of what is so remarkable (and perhaps entirely unsurprising) is that Jeanne Bishop only finds some semblance of wholeness again AS she seeks to move towards reconciliation with the one who took so much from her.  I know this was also the case in at least some of the other stories those first listeners must have had echoing in their memories as Jesus spoke.

Think of Joseph's brothers whose remorse was real enough that they would do all they could to protect their youngest brother Benjamin. And whose lives were not really 'whole again' until they were united once more with the brother they had wronged. One could certainly argue that this was doubly the case for Joseph who clearly had nursed his resentment against his older brothers all those years --- and who never even made an attempt to be in touch with his aging father.

And think of Esau, who in the end, met his brother, Jacob, on his way home --- and welcomed him with open arms.

Indeed, the saddest part of the story Jesus shares today is not that the younger brother had strayed, but that the older brother is allowing himself to remain bound up in his own bitter self-righteousness, in his own bitter resentment. There is profound joy in the story when the younger son found his way home. Only the father's joy will not be complete until his older son finds his way home as well. Home to that place where love is the first and final arbiter of all that matters.

Home. Where we all remember that God's power is at work in all of us. All of us. And where we will only find the wholeness God intends for us when we extend that wholeness to others. Most especially, perhaps, those who have hurt us most of all.

And so it is that this familiar parable is finally incomplete. We do not know if the older brother ever finds his way inside to the party. If he ever finds his way 'home.' I imagine Jesus left the plot dangling right there so that all of us might somehow experience the invitation as well. As Esau did. As Joseph and his brothers did. As Jeanne Bishop did. Oh yes, I expect Jesus did not tell us the ending for that is ours to write even now.

So what shall it be?

  • Shall we, shall I, set aside my own bitter pride and go to the party after all? 
  • Will I accept this invitation to wholeness which can only be mine if I recognize God's love even for those who have hurt me most of all?
  • Or shall I continue to deny the power, the grace, the love of God for the one(s) I have deemed to be somehow 'fundamentally different' from me? Shall I sacrifice my own potential wholeness to prove a point which was never God's point at all?
Indeed, how will this story end?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

How Much Does It Cost?

Isaiah 55:1-9

It comes from a long time back, this story.

I was on my seminary internship in Wahoo, Nebraska.

It was the practice then for area Lutheran pastors (and interns) to take turns leading a monthly communion service at a local nursing home.

These services were held in the lounge at one end of the building. It was the best space they had for such as this and it had a piano so this meant we could share in music together. Even so, the space was less than ideal. Those who arrived early claimed the comfortable chairs lining the walls. Those arriving later would settle into a folding chair, setting their cane or walker aside --- often impeding traffic. And of course, a whole lot of others would be moved into the aisle space in their wheel chairs. When it came time to share the bread and wine of communion, you would find yourself moving carefully so as not to get tangled up in some one's feet or wheel or walker or cane.

It was as I moved to those folks seated near the doorway that I came to Hannah who was, by then, well into her nineties. She sat hunched forward in her wheel chair looking down at her lap. As I paused before her, I wondered for a moment if she was actually asleep, something which would not have been at all unusual. Hesitantly, I leaned down, my hand brushing hers as I pressed the wafer into her palm and spoke the words, "The body of Christ, given for you."

Hannah was not asleep. In fact, her head jerked up and she said loud enough for all to hear,
"How much does it cost?"
I was so surprised, I did not answer at first, but Hannah asked again,
"How much does it cost?"
This time my words came tumbling out, "But, Hannah," I stuttered. "It doesn't cost anything. It's free!"

I do not know that she heard or understood me then. And looking back, I know now that perhaps her question was not intended for me at all. For she had lived her whole life in a world where everything 'cost.' Oh yes, maybe, in fact, she was not the least bit curious about the cost of that wafer of bread, that sip of wine. It could be she was living in another part of her history altogether and something in that moment triggered another response.  Even so, the moment and her question has stayed with me.
"How much does it cost?"
Indeed, I think of it again this week when I hear the prophet's cry to come and eat this abundant feast which comes at no 'cost' at all.

This is not the way the world works, of course. In fact, just the other day I found myself in the car listening to an advertiser's announcement that a certain business venture would come at no financial risk. I laughed at the notion. In these days of primaries and caucuses I shake my head at politicians who make promises as though they have no consequence---as if there would be no 'cost.' (And yes, in one way or another, one can make this case from both ends of the political spectrum.)  Indeed, think with me of those old cliche's:
  • There is no such thing as a free lunch.
  • You have to pay the piper.
or, the one my dad would quote:
  • All bills get paid.

I especially resonate with this last one as it promises some measure of justice in a world where equity is often lacking. As you might imagine, these words were often spoken with a shaking head as he pondered another's foolish or shortsighted or self-centered choices or behavior.

And yet, today, we have the prophet promising something for nothing:
  • Not only is it a 'free lunch,' but it is a meal that is almost unimaginably extravagant.
  • There is no piper waiting to be paid. 
  • All the bills have been forgiven.
We have before us an image of extravagant grace. It is but ours to pull up a chair and enjoy.

And yet, there is still a price to be paid, is there not? What I mean to say is this:
  • For isn't it so that if one accepts this invitation, one may have to turn down another option?
  • And by agreeing to share in this 'free lunch,' we have to set aside our pride at our own sense of self-sufficiency, don't we?
  • And certainly when we arrive at this feast of 'rich food,' we may find ourselves joined by others whom we had not expected to meet at this table --- even those who have caused us pain, or others whose choices have been unacceptable by our standards. And wouldn't my agreeing to remain come at the cost of forgiveness, or acceptance, or at least 'thinking again?'
  • And oh, isn't it so that by agreeing to be part of this sumptuous feast we must set aside our own guilt, our own shame, our own deep sense of not deserving this invitation in order to simply receive the generosity of the host?

So perhaps there is no such thing as a 'free lunch' after all. And, in fact, perhaps you have noticed that Isaiah points to this as well when he chides his listeners for spending their money 'for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy.' Clearly something is being 'spent.'  The question is, where and how will we spend that which is ours to spend?

So yes, the banquet is free. The gifts of God are free. But the price, the cost, is that which we must give up in order to accept this invitation.

And oh isn't it hard to understand why we would choose to spend on all those other things which do not first or finally feed us at all? Why would we hesitate for even a moment to receive what is so much better, so much more satisfying?

  • Can you imagine the feast Isaiah describes today? Consider this meal alongside other meals described in scripture. How are they like? Where do they differ?
  • Take a quick mental assessment. Where and how in your life do you "spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which doe not satisfy? Where and how might you be called to 'spend' differently?
  • While the prophet extends an invitation to a feast of rich food which is 'free,' it does come at a cost. I have offered above some examples of the 'price' we pay to accept this invitation. Which one speaks to you? Would you add another? What would it be?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Not Too Late

Luke 13:31-35

I got called to the hospital late after a meeting on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

A woman was entering hospice care.

Most of her grown children were there. Some live nearby. Others had traveled a great distance and were here for the duration.

"Mom is troubled," they told me. "She thinks she has not done enough. Can you assure her that God loves her?"

Well, this is the classic Lutheran message of grace, of course and I did so with ease, as I have done countless times before.

Though her body was rigid with pain, her mind was still clear. She was able to hear me. She seemed to understand. Her mouth voiced the Lord's Prayer when we shared it. She reached out her arms in gratitude when I left.

It was Tuesday. She would breathe her last among us on Friday.

It was not too late.

Not too late for God's gifts to embrace her in promised forgiveness and love. And surely not too late for her children to gather close and return to her some of a lifetime of love and care she had extended to them over and over and over again.

It was not too late.

It seems to me this is the central message of today's Gospel reading for you and for me, for you will notice that Luke offers this scene relatively early in the narrative.

It is not too late.

Oh, we can be easily distracted by the ongoing feud between Jesus and Herod and we can wonder about how the powers of the world fit into the drama before us then and now. Only Jesus turns his back on Herod. He dismisses him and his not insubstantial status and power. And he turns his heart towards Jerusalem.

And so we hear and we are led to believe it is not too late. Not even for those who have broken the heart of Jesus. Not when he uttered this aching lament two thousand years ago and not today.

And Jesus' heart is broken, clearly it is. For we hear him now crying out his heartache over Jerusalem --- that holy city which had been the seat of God's presence since ancient times. Jerusalem, where he found his home as a boy in the temple. Jerusalem, which would soon claim his life.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"
Oh yes, these words are uttered by one who has been betrayed, who has loved completely, but whose love has been thrown back at him. This is the cry of one who has suffered rejection and who will too soon suffer unspeakably and die at the hands of that rejection.

Only the story is not done yet.

  • Not for the Pharisees who warned Jesus of Herod's intent. 
  • Not for his disciples standing nearby.
  • Not for the crowds who have been listening to his teaching nor the broken in mind, body, and spirit who have received his healing. 
It was not too late then and it is not too late now. Not even for you and me.

For though Jesus' plaintive cry was spoken over Jerusalem, we can be certain he still weeps over all of us, too, for whom he gave his all. Oh yes, we know he must still weep when too often we reject his embrace. When with our hearts and with our lives we turn our back on him still.

And Jesus' lament is fitting, for even at our very best when we reject the promised protection and love of  God, we set ourselves up to try to live in a world on our own where for all of our best intentions, we will not do, can never be enough. And where our hopes turn to cynicism and our resolve to do good too often dissolves under the pressures of the world. And at our worst? Well, we know too well what that looks like.

Again, the cry of Jesus is one of betrayal. It is directed at those with whom God's best gifts have been invested. The very likes of you and me.

I do not know the life story of the woman who in her dying days reached out her arms in gratitude to me on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. I do know this. Jesus had been crying out his love for her, her whole life long. And I do not know the consequences of her inability to receive this precious gift sooner. I do know this, though.
  • When I choose not to rest in grace, I think too much or too little of myself. Neither are in keeping with God's intent. And both have consequences. Sometimes ones which would break your heart.
  • When I forget that I am but one of the brood, watched over by God as a mother hen would, I venture out on my own, putting myself and potentially others in harm's way.
  • When I do not believe myself to be in profound need of forgiveness just like all the rest, I tend not to see others as so very tender and so very vulnerable, too.
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, yes. Jesus weeps over all those who turn their backs on his love.

But it's not too late. It is not too late. Not then and not now.

It is not too late.

  • It is not too late. What does this promise mean to you?  How does it change everything?
  • I am struck that Jesus' lament is rooted in the fact that Jerusalem has turned her back on his love. How might we understand this first rejection of Jesus as the root of every other failure or shortcoming or sin which can and does mark our lives?
  • In this reflection, I have set aside Jesus' reaction to the message about Herod. I have done so because that appears to be what he did. Is this an appropriate distinction? Why or why not?

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted (or tested) by the devil. (Luke 4:1-2)

Surely it is hard for most mere mortals to comprehend or relate to the strength and fortitude of Jesus as he withstood temptation after temptation in the wilderness. Perhaps this is because we don't have to think far before we come up with examples of times of temptation or testing which we ourselves have experienced and we recognize our own struggle with it. Indeed, given my own experience, I know his clarity of focus and strength were simply remarkable. While I could offer dozens of such examples, the one which comes to mind for me this week is one that goes back more than thirty years. I was tested, yes. And the test, while it began with a classroom and a teacher and a hoped for grade? It pointed me to so much more than that.

I was a senior in college. As it was, I had fulfilled most of my requirements to graduate (except math, but that's another story) and with a handful of electives left, I decided to branch out. I registered for Introduction to Literature, a class inhabited mostly by freshmen, of course. I signed up to take the course with Dr. Michaelson, a kindly man not much older than I am now, but whose face was lined with the horrors he had witnessed when he fought in Japan in World War II. I knew him by name and by reputation and was looking forward to learning from him. And there was this. Although I was not necessarily opposed to hard work, my degree was in sight and I was, in a very real way, only doing what I had to do to get to May. Simply put, I was not looking to work too hard and I figured his kindness would allow me this luxury.

On the first day of class, though, I was surprised when a tiny woman walked in. Dr. Welch was an adjunct professor in the English Department. Evidently teaching schedules had changed since I signed up a few weeks before. Even so, while I was surprised and more than a little disappointed, I settled in.

It was when I turned in my first paper that I discovered this was not going to be at all what I expected: a light course to dabble in as I made my way towards graduation. For in fact, at the top of the first page was a large red B, along with the request for a conversation after class.

And so I stayed behind. Dr. Welch sat in the desk opposite mine and said to me, "Janet, this is A work. However, I am giving you a B because you can do better."

Now this was a long time ago, of course. Today a student in a similar situation would likely file a complaint. (Truthfully, I'm not sure such an option was even available to us then, but even if it had been, my by then deeply ingrained sense of respect for authority would probably have kept me from doing so.)

Dr. Welch went on to tell me that I had gotten lazy, that I had been coasting for a while now, that I had quit reaching. Then she told me that if I had any aspirations for graduate school whatsoever, I was going to have to step it up a notch.

As you can imagine, I was less than happy. But even though I might not yet have been ready to admit it, I knew she was right. Indeed, I received a lot of grades in those four years of college, but I remember that "B" most of all. Partly because her challenge had its intended affect. I worked harder than I had in some time to try to measure up, to pass this 'test.'  And not only for the grade I would earn, but for all which I would learn for all that would follow.

So here is how I think of this as I consider Jesus' forty days in the wilderness and these forty days of Lent where we find ourselves now. Perhaps for Jesus, this time of 'testing' was not finally really about what happened in the wilderness where he was accompanied by the Holy Spirit and confronted by temptation. It was, rather, a time apart meant to 'test him' to get him ready for what would follow. It was a time of honing, sharpening, and perfecting in much the same way my college Introduction to Literature class turned out to be in a small way. For it was not really about the grade I would receive after twelve weeks of reading and analyzing and learning and writing. It was about learning skills I could later put to use. Yes, in this case it was about developing 'character' and learning to work hard and to deepen my drive towards goal and love of learning --- all attributes which I would need throughout my life.

To be sure, looking back I know more fully now that those four years of college and subsequent four years of seminary and all those years I spent working on my Doctor of Ministry were also that: time set apart to learn and grow and test and perfect. They surely were not an end in and of themselves, just as Jesus' forty days in the wilderness were not the end. Rather, times like these are meant to help give us what we will need for what comes next. In other words? It's not about the grade, the degree, or the stamped certificate Jesus might have gotten in another setting outlining his superior performance against the devil. It is about how God's gifts are perfected to help us be all God calls us to. As was so for Jesus.

And so now we find ourselves at the beginning of these forty days of Lent. This time, too, is not an end in itself. Rather, it comes to us as a time set apart to help us become more and more who God intends. What this means for each of us may well be different:
  • For some we may continue in the ancient practice of giving something up as a way of somehow identifying with Christ's sacrifice in our behalf. 
  • For others it may be a time of adding something: as in spending more time in worship and prayer. Or in experimenting with another kind of prayer which is less familiar to us.
  • Others still, will simply claim more 'quiet' time and space by refraining from social media or cleaning out our closets one piece at a time.
  • Still others will find another way to mark these forty days.
Certainly each of these has its place, And yet, I do wonder, what it might mean if we began all of these ways of observing Lent by first recognizing this as a time for 'testing' which will prepare us for what will yet be ours. I wonder what it would mean, no matter what we do or not do in these forty days, if we used this time and these practices to cultivate such attributes as patience or understanding or hope. Or gratitude. Or joy. Or wonder.

And I wonder how this plays out among church professionals who find ourselves simply swamped by the extra demands of this season. Indeed, perhaps just the extra preaching and worship leadership on top of what is already ours is enough of a 'test.' And yet, we are not truly 'tested', if we don't reflect and grow from it, are we?

More than thirty years ago an unexpected English professor taught me something about 'testing.' With one large red "B" she invited me to be more. With her critique and her encouragement I was able to begin to see beyond the current 'test,' to the world that was waiting for me after. And I have always been grateful.

May we also be grateful for the 'testing' we undergo in the weeks to come:  Indeed, when we come to Easter once more may we recognize that God has used this time to hone and perfect us for whatever life hands us, for wherever it is God leads us next.

  • As you consider Jesus' forty days and nights in the wilderness, is it helpful to you to think about his experience as 'testing' in addition to simply 'tempting?
  • There are certainly other periods of forty in the Bible such as time the people of Israel spent in the wilderness or the time Noah and his family spent on the ark. How did God use those times to 'test' God's people?
  • What life experiences of 'testing' help you to better understand Jesus' experience in the wilderness? 
  • What will these forty days look like for you this year? How will you allow hope or patience or understanding or gratitude or joy or wonder to be cultivated in you?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

On Clean Hearts and Good Starts: Some Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17

Last year on Ash Wednesday I happened to be one of the chaplains on call at our local hospital. It was early afternoon when a nurse called from the maternity ward to ask if I could bring ashes. One of her patients had requested it.

And so I put some ashes in an airtight container (I have since acquired something more appropriate) and I bundled up and headed across town. I confess I was a little nervous as I had not been told just what I would be walking into.

I made my way upstairs and rang the doorbell to be let in. The nurse at the desk greeted me and sent me to a room halfway down the hall. I knocked on the closed door and heard a faint voice invite me in. I entered to find a young woman in the bed, cradling her infant son. She was surround by family: her aunt, her grandmother, her cousin, her sister.

I told this young mother who I was and that I had ashes.

She was overjoyed. She had been in labor all night the night before. She was distressed that she was missing Ash Wednesday and its accompanying rituals. She wanted the ashes for herself. And she said she wanted to get her infant child off to a good start. And so ashes were imposed, one by one, on each and every family member gathered there, including that little one who was but a few hours old. I said good-bye and made my way out. Before I left the hospital, I was greeted by another staff member who knew why I was there. She asked if I would be willing to share ashes with others and then she picked up the phone. Within minutes I found myself in the corner of a busy emergency room where one after another, nurses and doctors broke away from whatever or whoever had been demanding their attention a moment before to pause and receive a cross of ash and to hear the words,
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
And I have to say, this seemed especially resonant in a place where the frailty of life is witnessed day after night after day every day.

Now while it is so, of course, that the tradition of imposing ashes is undoubtedly rooted in the ancient tradition of donning sackcloth and ashes which in another time were signs of profound mourning, I was interested this week to make the connection with ashes as a cleansing agent. Indeed, check out this list of all the ways ashes can be used: to clean laundry, to remove odors, and to wash one's hair, to name a few.

So while most years I have lived in the certain reminder of mortality in the words we speak over those ashes, maybe it is really this understanding which keeps bringing people back. Perhaps it was precisely this which had a young mother and her family and a whole lot of emergency department medical staff yearning to receive those ashes. Indeed, perhaps it is this:
  • Deep down, when we pause to consider it, we recognize our own frailty, which is of course, tied to our mortality.
  • And when we are safe to admit it, we surely know our living could and should look and be better than it is. 
  • To be sure, if we are honest, we are deeply aware that we have been the instruments of broken hearts. 
    • Of others, yes, 
    • Of our own, perhaps. 
    • And certainly of God's.
  • And we yearn for the promise receiving the sign of Christ's cross traced on our foreheads bears for us all. In touch and sound and residue of ash the promise of grace, forgiveness, a fresh start is ours. Or in the words of a brand new mom last Ash Wednesday: "a good start" for her infant boy.
And in those times when we failed to remember, we can be reminded in the pleading words of today's Psalm, which I, for one, have come to know by heart:
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
And renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence
And do not take your holy spirit from me...
I can recite these ancient words certainly because I find my lifelong home in a liturgical tradition which sang these words Sunday after Sunday. But even more than that, they belong to me and all of those who find they speak to our heart's longing. They speak to my knowing I need to be made clean.

And so this Ash Wednesday I will gather with my congregation and share in this ritual once more. And mid-day I will travel to the hospital and offer this reminder, this gift, this promise to any and all to whom this ritual speaks: to those who yearn once more to hear Christ's promise of grace and forgiveness in sound and touch and residue of ash.

My prayers join yours this season as we yearn for clean hearts and good starts and fresh starts. May God's grace and forgiveness be received as gifts which will have their way in our lives and through us in the world. Indeed, may this be so. Especially this year may this be so.
  • How does Ash Wednesday speak to you? What place does it have in your faith journey?
  • Do you see the ashes as a way of experiencing a 'fresh start' or a 'good start?' Why or why not?
  • If you are so privileged as to be one who traces the cross of ash on the foreheads of others, take a moment to recall those hundreds or thousands or more who have received this gift via your hand. What stories stand out for you? How do they inform your understanding of this day, this ritual, these gifts of God?