Marked on the forehead. That is what we see Ash Wednesday on fellow parishioners – and some people on the street. They are marked with a cross, made of ashes, drawn with a thumb, by a priest or minister. As they were marked they heard words like these:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
The imposition of ashes serves as a reminder of mortality – and a reminder of eternal life, for at death, to God’s faithful people, life is changed, not ended.
How can this be?
In Baptism you are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever.
You are marked as Christ’s own forever. You are no longer your own; you are bought with a price. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
The life we live now we live no longer for our selves or of our selves, but we live in Christ, for Christ, as Christ’s own people, as the ones of his own fold whom he protects – and whom he guides – and whom he calls.
And he calls us not only into safety and refuge but also into a life that is fully alive – with threats, joys, sorrows, sheer boredom, hard days and soft hours, excitement and pain, and ultimate delight. For ultimately we delight in him and we are his own, brought into his company and welcomed home.
This home is ours – not at the end of time but now, ours from the moment of our baptism. At baptism we are welcomed into the home of faith, received into the household of God.
This household is God’s domain, the Kingdom of Christ. How to see it? How to live it? How to carry it out among ourselves? How to carry it out and make it real in our lives – and the lives of our neighbors?
Who is my neighbor? (Just checking.)
Hmm… maybe a demographic profile of my community will help. Maybe… a parable? (Substitute some stereotype unsavory and challenging for “Samaritan.”)
Or it may be that we encounter our neighbor when we find ourselves helping someone in need, or rejoice with someone in celebration, or simply share a meal.
And it may be that in encountering our neighbors we encounter something of ourselves. It may be something familiar and comfortable – or something familiar and uncomfortable!
And yet somehow Jesus welcomes us all – so that, at the last, and in the first instance, Jesus is able to say to us, with conviction, you are my own, singled out, marked for life.
For the Gospel Grapevine (February 2012), newsletter of Saint Alban's Parish, Edmonds, Wash. http://stalbansedmonds.org