It's Ash Wednesday. You know, that day when we get dirty on our foreheads and we pray the prayer of confession that acknowledges that we did all this by our fault, our own fault, our own most grievous fault. It's that line that gets me every year -- that causes me to pause in a way that most other parts of the liturgy don't. Maybe it's because I'm kneeling at that point, and all the words are in front of me so I don't have to be thinking ahead about worship and my role in leading it and whether or not I'm on the right page instead of leading the people astray down a confession or a proper preface that they're scrambling to find.
I made peace with the beautiful notion that each year I impose ashes upon people's foreheads who are quite close to returning to the dust, and also to those foreheads that are practically still wet from the waters I placed there during their baptisms. I'll get a little weepy still when I notice these beautiful people of God kneeling at the rail, and I bend over a bit to make that sign, that crumbly dusty sign of mortality upon their brows. But every year I make peace with it, usually over my morning cup of coffee, as I stand in the kitchen warming my hands around the mug, thinking about the day ahead of me. And so the tears that well up in my eyes are ones of deep love and care, not of trouble and distress.
Some years I preach and some years I preside. This is a presiding year -- a year when on Ash Wednesday I move from leading the confession to dipping my thumb into the small cup of ashes to standing behind the table to lift the bread and wine. We stop at the small table and swirl our hands in the soapy water there as a way station, a nod to cleanliness, and it strikes me that some year I'd like to put soap in the baptismal bowl and wash my hands there, for the whole congregation to see, instead of tucked in an alcove and using a dish towel.
But it never all comes off right away, those ashes mixed with a little bit of oil that we use. And so we move to the table lifting the bread with the remnants of ash worn into the grooves of my fingerprints and wedged beneath my nails. My hands are dirty on this day as I stand at the Lord's Table, and as I share the body of Christ with the faithful. The body of Christ, given for you.