This is really just a thank you note for a beautiful moment.
I used to get the ashes for Ash Wednesday service from St. Mary's Bookstore. No need to get a fresh supply every year - the little plastic bag holds plenty for two or three services. I always loved the fact that the ashes are made from dried up palm branches that had been used to greet Jesus on Palm Sunday. The exuberance of that day really does dry up fast, doesn't it?
Last year, I decided to keep the palm branches we actually used here at Vine Street. I kept them in my study, in a big, blue bucket from Lowe's. At first they looked like an odd potted plant, but soon it was just a bucket full of dead stems and leaves. I waited for just the right day and had a little fire in our backyard.
So this year, the ashes on our foreheads and hands didn't come from a church supply store, but from our own dried up Palm Sunday parade. I like that, but that's not what this note is about.
On Monday before Ash Wednesday, a friend called and told me that our sisters and brothers at Otter Creek would have a service on Ash Wednesday. One of the leaders was about to make the trip to St. Mary's Bookstore to get some of the black stuff that reminds us so starkly of our mortality. Would we consider sharing some of ours? He knew that burning through a bucket of dry palm branches makes a nice pile of ashes (a pile, liturgically speaking, because it's really not even a handful).
And so we shared all that was left of our exuberant welcome of Jesus with our friends at Otter Creek. I can't think of words large enough to hold my gratitude.
In the company of Jesus, even ashes become sacramental. We are dust, all of us, and Christ makes us one.