Today is Ash Wednesday. One tradition in Christian churches is called "the imposition of ashes." It refers to the act of placing ashes upon the foreheads of Christians to remind them of their mortality and their dependence upon God's grace. But the word "imposition" is not one we use often. I thought about someone saying, "I don't want to be an imposition" or " I hope I am not imposing." I looked in the dictionary to find these definitions:
- the laying on of something as a burden or obligation
- the act of imposing by or as if by authority
- the act of imposing fraudulently or deceptively on others
- the ceremonial laying on of hands, as in confirmation or ordination
- the act of putting, placing, or laying on
Only the final definition in the above list seems to touch on what we do on Ash Wednesday. But I never thought of the imposition of ashes as a "burden" or an "obligation" -- and certainly not something involving "deception." In fact, there is something very honest about saying to someone the words we speak as we place the ashes on someone's forehead: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." It doesn't get much more honest than that.
Wearing those ashes around in public may be something of a "burden" -- reflecting our "obligations" as followers of Christ to love one another. Jesus tells us that in following him, we will all take up our cross in life daily - whatever that cross may be.
However, the Psalms reminds us of this: "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death." Even as we allow ashes to be imposed upon our foreheads as a reminder that we are all mortal, we also remember that we have a Savior who bears our burdens daily - one who saves us and offers us "escape from death." While we all face physical death, that is not the final word. God's final word is resurrection and the end of death!