Ashes, Dust, and…

Ash Wednesday Cross

Worshiping in rehab hospitals and skilled nursing communities means worshiping in a fair amount of chaos.   In addition to the needs and wants of the residents, there are always announcements going on overhead. Doctors, nursing students, and caregivers are constantly moving in and out, monitoring blood sugar levels and other vital signs.  I am often left wondering how people actually heal, or at least rest, in such environments of constant noise and activity.

Today a volunteer and I were in two such hospitals, and in both communities someone showed up about the same time with ashes to be shared.  In the first community, a team showed up just as we were finishing our service.  While they seemed quite surprised and maybe a bit uneasy to see us there, cordial greetings and blessings were shared.
In the second community the person bearing ashes came during our service.  We paused as she moved through, and I asked her if she would place ashes on my forehead.  With her thumb she marked my forehead with the customary dusty cross.  “Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.”  She then kept on moving through the room filled with people, most of whom were in wheelchairs.
“That’s it?” I actually almost asked this out loud.
As she finished, we continued our service, a bit dustier, but still singing of God’s promise of eternal life and love.   Some of these good folks I have worshiped with for close to eight years. Every month I stand in front of them and witness their slow demise, and no doubt, they witness mine. I don’t think any of us are foolish enough to believe that these bodies in which we are housed will not eventually fail entirely. Those I worship with probably know this even more than I.  Disease, suffering, old age, and physical death are real, and not easy to celebrate.  However, God’s love is simply, and mysteriously more.   Of this we continue to sing.
My life flows on in endless song; above earth’s lamentation.
I hear the sweet, though far off hymn that hails a new creation. 
Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear the music ringing.
(My Life Flows on in Endless Song, Anonymous)
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