Across the Pastor’s Desk: What’s that on your forehead?

Published 8:00 pm Friday, February 17, 2023

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Across the Pastor’s Desk by Charles Teixeira

I remember seeing it for the first time.

Charles Teixeira

I was walking down the hallway in my elementary school and one of my teachers (who I later learned was Roman Catholic) had a black smear on their forehead. It seemed strange, and I assumed it was just a marker or pen mark — some accidental, embarrassing smudge. I had to get closer to get a good look, all with the intention of telling them that they should probably look in a mirror and use the restroom to wash whatever it was off.

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Looking closer, the black mark on their forehead looked purposeful. It vaguely resembled the shape of a cross.

Most of my family, and my neighbors as well, were highly skeptical of church. These kinds of expressions like ashes on your forehead seemed archaic, even cult-like. When I became a follower of Jesus just before college, someone finally explained what this strange practice of adorning ashes on Ash Wednesday was meaningful, even beautiful, to people who proclaim Jesus as their Lord.

Wearing ashes is a reminder of our fragility and our need for God to save us from ourselves. Our faith tells us that in the beginning God lovingly crafted humanity out of the dust of the earth, the crowning achievement of all the things he made. And God was perfectly pleased to live alongside us. Eventually, and tragically, humanity turned from God and searched for better life elsewhere. God said to them that because they had walked away from this perfect life with him, they would experience the absence of life, death, for the first time. He told them, “you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

Hence, ashes (representing dust) reminds us that we need God to welcome us back into a relationship with him. The one who crafted us from dust has the power to restore us back to full life.

There are all kinds of decisions we make that are either drawing us towards a relationship with God or dragging us further away from him. We need God to save us, to clear the way back to a full life lived in him, flourishing in all the ways we were originally designed to. Thankfully, God sent his son, Jesus.

Jesus took on the fullness of death, dying for all the destructive decisions we’ve made, to open the door for us to choose a full, flourishing life with God again.

If you’re not a follower of Jesus, I’m glad you read this far. If you see someone this next Wednesday with a strange black smear on their foreheads, let it remind you: Christians aren’t claiming to have it all together. It’s actually the opposite. Ashes remind us, in case we ever forget, that we are far from perfect and we need God to save us from ourselves. We’re human, living broken lives alongside everyone else. We also know, thanks be to God, that there is hope that has rescued our lives out of these ashes. His name is Jesus.

If you’d like to learn more, try visiting a church nearby or scheduling time to talk with a pastor. If you are walking through life but aware of the brokenness in or around your life, the same hope is available to you: the God who lovingly gave you life out of ashes once can raise your life out of them again today.

Charles Teixeira is pastor at First Presbyterian Church.