One cold, winter night around ten or ten-thirty, I was sitting in the living room of our house in Wisconsin, reading a magazine when I heard sirens. I looked outside as the volume grew and watched as fire truck after fire truck - eventually four or fire - pulled into the church parking lot across from our house. I looked at the steeple and a great cloud of smoke was rising from it. I called out, "Ben, I think the church is on FIRE!" It was true. This neighborhood church, where we had worshipped on Mother's Day and they had given me a pansy, this incredible structure was soon engulfed in powerful flames. We watched with awe. News teams came. For days afterward, the fire trucks still were spraying the structure, trying to keep the fire from reigniting.
What is left after a fire? Ash. Soot. Everywhere. Covering the neighboring homes, covering the snow--along with thick layers of ice from the fire hoses, the remains of the structure were covered with ash.
Today, we are marked with ash. It's a reminder of the earth from which we come and the earth to which we'll go. We are earth, mud, fertile ground.
This was not the first church that burned to the ground during our time in Wisconsin--and in both cases, the people/the church sensed the blazing fire not only as a great loss but as an opportunity. The ashes left behind became fertile ground for a new beginning.
We are marked today with the cross--an intersection. This is the place where God meets us and walks with us along the way.
We are marked today with the cross--the symbol of one reaching out in loving embrace.
We are marked today with the cross--marked in oil at baptism, marked at death, marked today in the in-between time with healing oil and ashes.
The oil and ash mark us and we are fertile ground for new beginnings.