Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dirt and Water

         Several years ago we moved our baptismal font from the front of the church to the entrance.  It did not seem like such a radical move.  In a way we were replacing an old baptismal font which had served only as a receptacle for holy water.  When the font was relocated, however, we immediately discovered what a difference it made in the way we live out what we believe. 

            We moved it prior to Lent.  We began to rethink what it meant for the baptismal font to be the focus of Lent, itself a season for preparing for baptism and the reaffirmation of baptism.  We decided that all the important liturgical actions during Lent, Holy Week, and Easter we would do in close connection to the font.  So now, we bless the palms of Palm Sunday at the font remembering that just as Christ entered Jerusalem in triumph, so he enters us in baptism with power.  We wash each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday around the font, thinking about how in baptism not only our feet but our hands and heads are washed so we can be totally Christ’s.  We venerate the cross on Good Friday at the font, becaue in baptism we are signed with the cross that we take up daily to follow Jesus.  We gather around the font on Holy Saturday to remember the burial of Christ in the tomb, symbolized by the font.  And of course, the whole congregation now encircles the font when we baptize and renew our baptism, remembering that the font is supremely a symbol of death and resurrection.

            Nuestra fuente hace unos años hizo el centro de nuestra liturgia para la Semana Santa y Pascua.  Después de moverla cerca de la entrada, comenzamos juntarnos acá para la bendición de los ramos, para el lavatorio de pies el jueves santo, para la veneración de la Santa Cruz el viernes santo, para recordar el sepultado de Cristo el sábado santo.  En cada caso, la conexión  del bautismo está manifiesta. 

            So we began imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday at the font.  We are the only church I know of that does it there.  In most places people come up to the altar, as for communion, and kneel to receive ashes.  I suppose that few people make the connection between communion and ashes.  It is just a convenient and logical place to kneel.  But I wonder if anyone here ponders how odd—and fitting—it is to go to the font to receive ashes.  Once in my first parish a little girl came with her father to receive ashes for the first time, and saw what was happening.  When I approached her with ashes, she drew back in obvious disdain and shook her head.  I stood there with my hand outstretched not knowing quite what to do.  Her grandfather later told me that she had come home and said, “I wasn’t going to let Father Frank put that dirty stuff on my face, no way!”  She was right.  Ashes are dirty stuff.  There is nothing especially pretty about them.  And to put ashes on our heads while we are gathered around the font reminds us of two inseparable things wound together in a paradox.  We can get incredibly dirty and at the same time be thoroughly washed clean. 

Imponer las cenizas a la fuente es un poco raro.  Es un costumbre único de San Esteban.  ¿Es apropiado o no? Cenizas son sucias, no son lindas.  Cenizas son señales que nosotros son creados del polvo—del suelo.  A veces podemos ser muy sucios.  Pero, a la fuente recordamos que Jesús nos lava que seamos completamente puros.

            Lent is not meant for wallowing in self-pity that we are soiled creatures, misshapen by our own failings and misdeeds.  It is rather a time to realize that we are totally human, a season of being quite honest with ourselves.  And if we are honest with ourselves, there is much that is broken in us, and a good deal that needs cleaning.  It is not just what you think either.  I am not talking about the dark and sordid places in your heart.  What often needs cleaning are those places where we participate in others’ harmful behaviors, when we allow ourselves or others to be abused, where we collude with the forces of repression and destruction that warp human lives, spoil creation, damage other creatures, and poison otherwise good systems so that they corrupt justice and twist truth.

            Durante Cuaresma, no pensamos que nosotros somos pecadores más grandes en todo el mundo.  No, reconocemos que somos solamente y totalmente humanos.  Que seamos honestos y sinceros.  ¡Necesitamos mucho ser limpiado!  Especialmente porqué ya participamos aún por ignorancia en sistemas que abusan a las personas, que destruyen vidas, que causan daño a la creación y otras criaturas, y corrompen justicia y degradan la verdad.

            Pero la cruz hecho por cenizas ya es una cruz, recordándonos que Cristo no nos encuentra como debemos ser, pero como nosotros somos.  Cristo nos guía durante Cuaresma a las aguas en las cuales él puede lavarnos y renovarnos.  Cenizas duran solamente por una estación, alegría por ser lavado en el agua vida duran por eternidad.

            The cross made with ashes is still a cross, reminding us that Christ meets us not as we should be but as we are.  Whether we are weak or strong, arrogant or humble, ashamed or at peace with ourselves, Christ can take us through Lent again to that place where again he can wash us clean and restore us.  Ashes last only for a season, joy in being washed by Christ for an eternity.

© Frank Gasque Dunn 2013

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