Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What's with burning palms for ashes?

Today I burned last year’s Palm leaves to be used for this year’s ashes. Curious about how that happens? We’ll just say, it’s a process (see pictures at the end of the post). As I burned and burned and stirred and burned, I reflected on a question I ask myself every year:

“Why are last year’s palms burned to be used for this year’s Ash Wednesday’s ashes?”

After all, we’ll be celebrating Palm Sunday toward the end of the Lenten season. What’s the deal with burning the palms now at the beginning? I’ve searched the internet and I’ve not really found a good answer to that question (of course, that could be due to my own “googling” capabilities). I can’t say I’ve got it all figured out, but here are a few things I’ve pondered. 

Palm Sunday is all about the excitement and anticipation of Jesus coming into Jerusalem. The people recognize he’s the messiah, the one who will be taking down the powers that be to save them. They are shouting his praises saying, “hosannah!” They’re excited because they don’t know what their salvation will actually mean. They don’t know that Jesus will have to suffer and die a criminal’s death. They don’t know the heartache and hopelessness they’ll feel before he has risen. They don’t know what has to happen for their salvation through the messiah. But for now they’re excited. That excitement, then hopelessness, then excitement at Christ’s resurrection speaks so much to our human journey and our liturgical one. 

During Lent each year we give something up or take something on so that we might walk a little closer with Christ. The Easter comes and we celebrate the fullness of relationship that Christ offers us, the life we have been given through him. We promise we’re going to keep up whatever it is we’ve been doing because it’s been so life-giving for us — we’ve seen the light! We have good intentions, really, we do. But somewhere along the way, life gets in the way. We stop going to that bible study we went to during Lent. We stop praying at lunch like we had been doing intentionally. We start wasting our time watching Netflix instead of improving our minds or our relationships. We had good intentions, but we mess up. It’s inevitable. That joy we had that reflected the excitement of our Palm Sunday and Easter lives has now dissipated. 

It’s been almost a full year since our last intentional season of putting ourselves in a better posture to receive God’s blessing. We’ve come back to square one. We know it’s going to be tough, but we must start again, with repentance and remembrance that we are human, that we need God. So we burn last year’s palms. Burning — a symbol of cleansing. These ashes of last year’s excitement and renewal are coming full circle to mark us as people who have repented, who seek renewal, who are beginning again to look for the salvation and life offered by Christ. May we remember that as we receive ashes today. 

“From dust you have come, from dust you shall return; repent and believe the gospel!”

Prayers for a meaningful Lent! - Rev. McSwitz

In case you're interested in my making ashes process, here it is:

 First you start with 6 or 7 palms...        then you cut them up and put them in a jar.

Next, you burn them...                            until they look like this.

Then you put them in a blender...           until they look like this.

After sifting them, and doing the whole process again, you've got...

Ashes for Ash Wednesday! So there you have it -- that's my process. :) Happy ashing!

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