As Ash Wednesday of the year 2012 approaches, I am reminded again of time, its passing, its significance, its insignificance.
“We are all passing through,” a friend said once, and the phrase took hold, for it appears in my mind at random moments, more and more frequently.
To the Christian, the world is a way station, a place through which we pass. We are born, we love, we suffer, until death takes our body and our souls move on. Where we go – to sleep, to purgatory, to paradise – we conjecture. But Christians are promised, they know, that their souls will not die and they will be given new, resurrected bodies.
Speaking to a friend about her baptism a few days ago, I prayed for wisdom in explaining the remarkable phenomenon of the Body of Christ. For she would be engrafted onto that organic Body, the Church, when the priest pours the water and says the words, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We are told by Christ we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless we are born again, baptized, by water and the Spirit. Since we desire eternal life with this God of love, we are baptized in His name, engrafted onto His Body the Church, to be one with God and one with us, the Communion of Saints.
This Wednesday I, with my fellow believers, will kneel before the altar. The priest will say, “Remember o man, that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return,” and he will mark my forehead with the Sign of the Cross, using ashes made from burning last year’s Palm Sunday palms. We are a people marked with the Cross.
Just so, in baptism I was signed with the Sign of the Cross, “in token that hereafter (I) shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto (my) life’s end.”
Ash Wednesday is a time when I remember, recognize, and anticipate. I remember the earlier marking of my flesh with holy oil, the marking that engrafted me onto Christ’s Body. I recognize that my own flesh is aging, that one day it will return to ashes, to the dust of the earth. I anticipate my new and resurrected body, as I rise with Christ on Easter morning.
When I spoke to my friend about baptism, I began by saying, “It all begins and ends with the Resurrection. All history led to this moment, and all history falls away from it. If we believe in the resurrection of Christ in history two thousand years ago, all other belief falls into place. And there is ample evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and walked among men.”
We are indeed all passing through, to the day when we will rise from the dead as well. God became Man to take us home with him. We are engrafted onto him, and we rise with him. We bear his Sign of the Cross. We are in him and he is in us.