Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ashes to ashes

I was really pleased by my Baptist heritage tonight.  We went to our new church for Ash Wednesday along with about 40 other people, gathering in the frigid sanctuary for melancholy singing and Scripture readings.  When it came time for the imposition of ashes, I sat forward, ready to stand and go forward so that our minister could make the sign of the cross on my forehead and say the words that usher in the Lenten season, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

But then he came down from the platform (we Baptists don't have chancels) and explained that we would give and receive the ashes to and from each other.  He started with his wife, gave her the ashes and she turned to the woman next to her, holding a new baby, who then took the ashes (the woman, not the baby) and administered them to a man sitting behind her who then gave them to the elderly woman next to him and so on and so on.

There was the very faint murmur of voices . . . "remember that you are dust" . . . and a little giggling when the ashes got to the youth group . . . and the creak of pews as people stood and faced each other and made the sign of the cross on the foreheads of strangers and friends.

My first reaction: that's not how it's supposed to be done.  My next reaction flooded me with warmth:  well, of course that's how Baptists would do Ash Wednesday; of course we would share the ashes with each other, each of us a priest to the other.   (Of course, Baptists of old would be appalled by the imposition of ashes at all--so Roman, so popish--but we've come a long way.)

I've been reading lately about the polity of other Christian traditions and I can see the wisdom in much of what I've read but I realized tonight that I am still a Baptist girl through and through--part of a church that just barely still remembers the old ideas of soul competency and the priesthood of the believer and the equality of each member of the body of Christ.

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