The mark of the cross in ashes
The mark of the cross in ashes

At our Ash Wednesday service, as preparation for communion, we read Isaiah 58.1–12 and Psalm 51, and in prayer we “called to mind our sins and the infinite mercy of God”. That prayer ended: “Accomplish in us the work of your salvation, that we may show your glory in the world. By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord, bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.”

Stirring words, and the point in the service where each member of the congregation had their forehead marked with the sign of the cross in ash (traditionally made by burning last year’s palm crosses), with the words of ministration “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. Explained by the words that came just before: “Loving God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: grant that these ashes may be for us a sign of our penitence and a symbol of our mortality; for it is by your grace alone that we receive eternal life in Jesus Christ our Saviour.”

Apart from the symbolism, the service was also memorable for the homily on a verse from the Gospel of the day: “Beware of practising righteousness before others in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1) The homily consisted in Michael Paterson reading a poetic reflection twice, with a pause for thought in between. His message will be there long after the ash has washed away.

Practising righteousness
with ash on our foreheads
a symbol not of piety
but of reality and intent:
the reality that we are dust
and to dust we shall return;
and the intent
to make that dust
a veritable storm
that whips up our lives
exposing the half-truths and the lies
by which we justify and deceive ourselves.

A grain of ash may be all it takes
to turn us round
and to refuse mediocrity.

A grain of ash may be all it takes
to signal our intent
and elicit our Yes
to act justly
to love tenderly
and to walk humbly with our God.

Who would have thought
a grain of ash
could start such a revolution?

[This reflection for Ash Wednesday 2019, prepared for St Margaret’s, Rosyth
by the Rev Dr Michael Paterson was inspired by and adapted from a poem
by Rev Liz Crumlish, Church of Scotland Path of Renewal Coordinator

Coming up …
  • 3 December 2023
    9:30 am Sung Eucharist
  • 3 December 2023
    11:00 am Morning Worship
  • 10 December 2023
    9:30 am Sung Eucharist
  • 10 December 2023
    11:00 am Morning Worship

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