The service was larger then most, 30 – 40 older people gathered in the Community Room of the assisted living where I work. Ash Wednesday, for the west the beginning of Lent.
The homily was quite good, a retired Lutheran pastor spoke of mortality and life as a gift from God. The service was traditional in the 1979 BCP sense of the word. Because I had the best eyes and the chaplain was off duty the reading fell to me.
Near the close of the service ashes were imposed and the people were reminded that they were from dust and to dust they would return. Somber words, and yet words that believers understand in their hopeful fullness. Then there was the sting.
I know the rules. I understand the rules. I support the rules. Yet there was a part of me that envied the ease in which the retired Lutheran pastor moved from person to person imposing ashes and serving the people gathered, because of their physical limitations, in this time and this place. I felt the closeness of a group of people seeking to begin Lent in faith and the distance between us, a distance forged in history and theology, sometimes for good cause and sometimes out of pure politics. Christians and yet apart, “No ashes for me, I’m Orthodox”.
I know the rules. I understand them. I support them. Yet it sometimes still stings to be so close and yet so far, to be in the same room with the centuries between us. Perhaps for the first time, though, I personally understand the words “For the holy Churches of God and the union of them all, let us pray to the Lord”
Lord have mercy.