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Drawn into the circle of God’s family

Marking ashes on the forehead

Ash Wednesday is a chance for Christians to reflect on how our practices of faith can become gestures of love and inclusion, bringing hope and healing.

Director, Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1, NRSV).

It’s a cold noontime on “the Diag,” a large open space on the campus of the University of Michigan. Students rush from one class to the next, dashing to the next place they need to be.

It’s Ash Wednesday, and a huddle of young people have gathered amid their busy schedules to mark the beginning of Lent with a time of prayer, blessing, and the mark of ashes. Ashes to Go is set up to provide the students with an opportunity to remember the good news of God’s love and to receive the mark of the cross in ashes on their foreheads or hands.

Some young people have come from a tradition of observing Lent, while others have come along as friends and have never experienced it before. One student, wearing rainbows and looking uncertain about all of this, tentatively steps forward to receive a blessing and the mark of the cross on their forehead. They look up afterward with tears in their eyes, saying that they weren’t sure that God even loved them until they received this blessing. In fact, some days, self-proclaimed prophets declare that they are bound for eternal punishment and that there is no way God would ever accept them. But this time, they heard a message of hope, acceptance, and unconditional love.

In that moment, the hustle of this public setting faded away into an intimate beginning of the Lenten realization of God’s love and acceptance. The olive oil mixed with the ashes became a balm of joy and healing for them. It was a time when strangers became family, and the presence of the Holy Spirit was tangible.

Sometimes the practice of piety can come across as demeaning and can wound others with declarations of judgment and self-righteousness. On this Ash Wednesday, though, this small gesture of love and inclusion brought hope and a move toward greater wholeness.

As we receive the mark of the ashes today, we have an opportunity to reflect on how our practice of faith affects those around us and how we are drawn more closely into the intimate circle of the family of God.

Loving God, out of your love and mercy, you breathed the breath of life into us, creating us to love and serve you and our neighbors. So may these 40 days of Lent cultivate in us the practice of love and care for all your people. Amen.

Last Updated on February 28, 2023

The Michigan Conference