Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down . . .
We sang it for fun, way back when I was young. Didn’t know the meaning. Still don’t. Urban legend says it’s about people dying horrible deaths during the Black Plague that swept through Europe long ago. But what’s that to children having fun, making light? Certainly, children aren’t dancing to death?
All I remember was the hand holding, the connection, the skipping together in the same direction, the laughter . . .
And the falling? We all fell down together.
And we still do . . .
Is this why we put ashes on our foreheads to begin our march to resurrection? To remind us that we all fall down—that we’re just made of dust, so why not WEAR dust?
But the ashes make the sign of the cross, a mark in the middle of our foreheads for all to see—not a scarlet letter on the dress of a rejected one who tries to earn her forgiveness after an adulterous affair in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel—but an ash cross on our skin to remind us that we are accepted and forgiven, lured back in love by the Savior who took the cross for us—who wore our shame Himself so we could be free of condemnation—embraced, not expelled.
To a holy God, our spiritual adultery has marked us to death, making us unworthy and unable to be in His perfect presence. We should be shunned. Would we want less than a perfect God who is less than perfectly just? Would such an imperfectly just God be perfectly loving? We deserve our marks, our scarlet letters, our expulsion, our condemnation.
He sent Jesus who became our willing rescue, our buy-back. This is why we wear the ashen cross front and center—to remember. But . . .
Because He has removed both our shame and our guilt in His own crucified body—in His own rejected soul. Such a perfect love the world has never known—and never will, apart from Jesus.
And yet, there is a force—an entity—who tries to steal our peace and our joy. We know it. We feel it. We fight against the one who tries to take what is not his. He is a thief trying to steal our sustenance—our abundant life given by Christ alone. That ashy foe, he aims to consume every bit of good, to spill us right out empty.
Jesus vanquished the ashy one. He bore our sins, our scarlet letters, so WE might truly LIVE. And in place of the death we deserved we have received royal invitation to become sons and daughters of the Most High, the holy God of all creation. In Him, we have become perfectly justified to stand in the presence of our perfectly loving and perfectly just Father who has promised us a rich inheritance like none we could ever even imagine on this earth. Our death sentence became as ashes by our all-consuming God who became death and overcame death—for US—to set—us—FREE!
Praise the Lord, oh my soul, all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
Who forgives all you sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed lie the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)
What has been burned beyond recognition in your life? What losses do you still mourn? What guilt do you still carry? Yes, we all fall down. And we’ve all been burned, haven’t we? But the good news, the gospel? Jesus scoops all our ashes and makes them beautiful with His nail-scarred hands. He takes our dead and resurrects every ash because He can and He wants.
Can we join hearts and dance joy, just like we did as kids?
Yes, we can—in Christ.
Give me your hand?