Thursday, February 26, 2009
Yesterday at 11:00AM I drove down to an Episcopal Church for their Ash Wednesday service. I chose a church where no one knew me. I just wanted to worship. I sat down and opened the Prayer Book until I found the service for the day. The old words stirred something in my heart. I brought with me many concerns: a brother very ill with pneumonia and staph infection, my wife’s aunt and uncle slowly drifting away from us in old age, a nation terrified of the future, and me trying to adjust to being 73 years old. These were some of the things I carried. The old words washed over me. “Almighty and Everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts…” The Scriptures for the day were read and then we were called forward. A lady in a wheelchair, a teenager, a tall man sitting beside me, grey-haired ladies, well-dressed business folk, and across the aisle the only person I knew in the room. Last week we buried her husband after a sudden heart attack. We all knelt at the altar as the Priests touched our foreheads and whispered: “Dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.” We returned to our seats and waited until all had been marked. After a time of confession we prayed together: “Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.” I remembered my brother and that old aunt and uncle and our nation and my friend, deep in grief across the aisle. Moments later we were invited to the altar for a second time. Like hungry children we opened our palms and took what was given: a token of that broken body and a sip of wine reminder of the blood that was shed for me and for us all. Despite our fragility and dustness—we tasted the mercy once again. Walking out into the sunlight I moved toward my car knowing that this will somehow be enough for me and for all those I love.