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I don’t know about you, but I’ve always enjoyed the public nature of Ash Wednesday. That is to say, what happens when we leave an Ash Wednesday service and there is the sign of the cross, for all who cross our paths to see. Recently I began to ask why is it that I have always liked this public semi-confession of faith. And I think the answer lies, at least in part, because of the posture in which we go in public with the sign of the cross.

The posture is, or at least it should be, one of humility. The sign of the cross is not etched in gold or silver. It’s not filled with ostentatious “bling” to demonstrate our status. (a status that of course would separate us from our fellow brothers and sisters) It is made instead with ash, not exactly a fashion icon, but rather a sign of death. Common, every day, ordinary death.

It is a reminder that this life is shorter than we think, and it orients us back to the most important death of all. And while I am sure some people have been offended by a public sign of faith; I’ve never heard of such a thing around Ash Wednesday. Perhaps in Ash Wednesday, is a paradigm though which we might view public faith in an increasingly post-Christian world.

Stuart Strachan Jr.

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