Today was Ash Wednesday. I have the cross of ashes on my forehead to prove it. I heard again the words, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." I said the same words this evening and made crosses on babies and on a man in a wheelchair, on a young couple I had never seen before, on a woman whose cancer has returned, on another woman whose husband now lives in a nursing home, on teenage triplets, on a single mom and her son. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." These words mark and form the day, no matter what else I do. And usually the day gets consumed with the worship services (we have three) and all the preparation for them.
Today, between the worship services, I spent some time at a home nearby, praying and giving communion to one of my parish members. He and his wife had been in my office not a month ago, telling me of his diagnosis. We talked and prayed and they wrote down a few of his wishes for his funeral. I found out that he had been in the navy long ago, but never on the sea. He was a navy flyer. Yesterday they called and said they wanted me to visit. So today I came with communion and with scripture readings. "Return to the Lord your God," I read, "For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." "It's the perfect verse," his wife said. "Abounding in steadfast love." "God's arms are open wide."
Later on, I drove down to a nearby nursing home, where I stopped in to see a woman who has dementia. Her bed was near the floor when I walked in. I bent down low to hold her hand. I don't know for sure if she knew who I was, but I said she had on a lovely shawl, and she said "good." I sang a couple of songs for her, because that's what I do when I don't know what to do. And I made the sign of the cross on her forehead, "Gloria, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked by the cross of Christ forever."
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
"Return to the Lord your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."
I made the sign of the cross on many foreheads today. I visited the dying. They were dying, and they were being born again, by the mercy of God.