Parish Interview: What Do Ashes Mean to You This Year?

March 13, 2012 § 4 Comments

St. Luke in the Fields Blog: What do ashes mean to you this year, Weiben?

Weiben Wang: There’s been a lot of death lately. In the month leading up to Ash Wednesday, I served in two funerals for friends at church. Then a friend’s father died, so, a week before Ash Wednesday, I ended up with a two funeral weekend. I saw one person’s ashes, and helped to shovel dirt onto another’s coffin. It so happened that Mother Stacey’s sermon on Ash Wednesday focused on mortality. She talked about crematoria, and images of my grandparents’ funerals came to mind. The Chinese are much less squeamish about the physical aspect of death. I watched both of them go into the furnace, and I saw them when they came out. With dust pans and chop sticks, we helped to pick through the remains and put them in jars. At my grandmother’s funeral, we wore actual sackcloth; it’s funny how the image of sackcloth and ashes was so immediate at a throughly non-Christian funeral. And we censed the dead, though with joss sticks by the fistful. Temples are full of ash from millions of joss sticks.

The other time I was marked on my forehead was at an Easter Vigil, and was “marked as Christ’s own forever.” It was the same gesture, and the same sensation, but with a different substance, and different significance, with oil rather than ash, joyous rather than somber, marking rebirth rather than death. The grace in all that ashen grimness was knowing that at the other end comes Easter, that through Lent and Good Friday, on the other side of the cross comes renewal, joy, and celebration.

In words from the Orthodox Easter liturgy, which I also like to attend:

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

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§ 4 Responses to Parish Interview: What Do Ashes Mean to You This Year?

  • Kristin says:

    This is beautiful, Weiben, thank you for sharing! As someone else who was baptized as an adult, I too spend a lot of time reflecting on the similarities between imposition of ashes and chrismation at baptism – I think they really are different expressions of the same reality, even if they seem outwardly different at first glance.

  • gochrisgo75 says:

    Weiben, thanks for the post. It was interesting to hear that Chinese people are less squeamish about death. I wonder why that is?

    I like this line “Trampling down death by death.” The irony of Jesus’ own death destroying true death for all of us a good reflection point.

  • mfoulke says:

    thank you Weiben, what comes to mind in response is from the Burial rite (and quoted in Mo. Stacey’s Ash Wednesday sermon) – “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

  • sean says:

    So if anyone want to go to St Vlad’s seminary for Orthodox Easter (the Sunday after Western Easter) let me know. Its ijust north of the city in Yonkers (?). My car can fit 5 people. It begins at 11:30pm on Saturday and we’ll stay through vespers until about 1am on Sunday.

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