Ash Wednesday: A Reminder of Beauty and Tension


Repent, and believe in the Gospel. The words burrow their way into my mind as Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J. imposes ash across my forehead. It feels auspicious sitting alongside my Protestant and Catholic colleagues at our first ecumenical Ash Wednesday service here at Georgetown University, and I am struck by the significance that we are observing this particular service together.

Ash Wednesday is complicated. It is a service in which we literally smear ashes across our foreheads, remembering who we are and to whom we belong. The ashes act as a reminder that we are sinners, all with limits and limitations, and yet we proclaim the Gospel in the same breath. Inherent in our practice is the tension between sinner and saved, a reminder that our hold on life is frightfully thin, and that despite our claims to faith and obedience, we continue to fall short of the faith we claim. We treat people as things, and things as though they are more valuable than people.

And yet, even as we are all sinners together, we are also participants in the Gospel of Christ Jesus together. I found the beauty and tension in this truth especially highlighted by the ecumenical nature of the service unfolding around me. We do not share a common table, but we do share the positions of both sinner and saved. Along with Dr. Jim Wickman’s invitation to examine our interior selves, so too in this holy season we are reminded that all are created in the image of Christ, and invited to participate in God’s design for the world. Even as sin clings as closely as the smudge of ash on our foreheads, we embrace the mercy that surrounds us and draws us into service with one another and to Jesus Christ. Remember. Repent.

Written by Rev. Olivia Lane, Protestant Chaplain and Chaplain-in-Residence at Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Hall