At a traditional funeral committal service we may hear: “We commit this body to its resting place, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; trusting in God’s great mercy and looking for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Many pastors have said and grieving families have heard these words at a time of deep loss. Ash Wednesday reminds us of the fact that we all will die and will return to the earth (or urn) and the mystery of life eternal.
So what do ashes mean for our lives right now this Ash Wednesday? What does it really mean to come to terms with our fragile bodies that will ultimately die and become “ashes”?
I’ve been reflecting on this reality and have found a simple response. It means we surrender. It means we let go and let God be God. It means that our lives are fragile and full of hurts and grief and unanswered questions and darkness. It means that God offers us the opportunity to be vulnerable and human and not in control. It means letting go of our cultural and even religious understanding of what it means to be a human striving for acceptance and power.
Surrender is an attitude of not being in control. Of naming and even celebrating that we don’t need to be right or have the answers or be beautiful or organized. Surrender is saying to ourselves, God, and others that I am human and okay just as I am. God will invite and lead us into growing and continuing to be healing and caring human beings. It is not my job to be in control of what I am becoming. All I can do is surrender and listen and respond and act. Ashes to Ashes reminds us of the gift of being human and letting God be God. Thanks be to God for this gift.