By MATT SEDDON
Rector of Christ Church Mexico City
The most common thing that archaeologists discover when they excavate is ash.
Before I was an Anglican priest, I was an archaeologist. I excavated many different sites. Some were more than 6,000 years old, others only a few hundred years old. And I can unequivocally say that the most common thing we humans leave behind in places where we have lived is ash. We light fires to keep warm and to cook, and we create ash. Lots and lots of ash, which we then either leave in the firepit or dump somewhere else. When we are gone, future generations know where we have been because of the ash we so freely leave behind.
Wednesday, March 6, is Ash Wednesday, and Christians in Mexico and around the world will take part in services that will culminate in the placement of ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. Through these ashes, we will be reminded of our mortality, that we are made of ashes and to ashes we will return. We will be encouraged to spend the next six and a half weeks in self-examination and repentance.
Why would we do this? One of the hallmarks of modern civilization is that we don’t live in and around ashes. So do we really need to spend six and a half weeks beating ourselves up, denying ourselves something we like, being told how bad we are, and asking forgiveness from a God often portrayed as a terrible and unforgiving judge?
As an Anglican, I will participate in these services, and as an Anglican priest, I will impose ashes on the foreheads of the faithful. But I don’t believe it is done to make us feel bad about ourselves. Instead, I believe we do it because for hundreds of years we have found it useful to be periodically reminded that our time here on Earth is short, that we can always be better people, and that also our God loves us, forgives us and only wishes for us to treat others with that same love and forgiveness.
The ashes are placed on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. And as an Anglican, I like to point out that it is an empty cross. It is the cross that tried to send Jesus into eternal death, but was instead conquered when Jesus rose from the dead on Easter. We are simultaneously reminded of our mortality and God’s promise of hope for the future.
Ash Wednesday is our opportunity – in a world that drives us to be ever more self-centered – to remember that we are part of something greater than ourselves alone. The ashes remind us of who we are, limited, imperfect, created beings who leave behind a lot of ash, but who also are loved and forgiven by the God who created us. Spending some time reflecting on that and trying to be as loving is good for us. Join us as we look into the mystery of a God who knows us just as we are, loves us and wants nothing more for us than to accept that love and give it away, just as freely.
Rev. Matt Seddon spent half of his life as an archaeologist working in Peru, Bolivia and the western United States, and is currently a priest in the Anglican Church and rector of Christ Church Parish in Mexico City.
Christ Church will offer Ash Wednesday services at 1 p.m. and 8p.m. in English, and at 6:30 p.m. in Spanish The church is located at Montes Escandinavos 405 in Colonia Lomas de Chapultepec.