We are marked in life by many things -- our cultural and ethnic heritage, our family, the communities in which we live, our opportunities for education (or lack thereof), our experiences – both the good and the not-so-good. Some of these markings we can see on the outside. All of them form us on the inside. They help to shape and mold both the contours and the pathways of our lives.
Within the Christian tradition, there is a marking that we would say enfolds all others. In the sacrament of Holy Baptism, we hear these words: “you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” Marked with the cross of Christ forever. Marked by water and Word. Marked by oil and promise. Marked with the indelible ink of grace. In this marking, we profess and believe that everything – absolutely everything – on your life’s journey has been already claimed by God. Whatever you do or do not do. Whatever you experience or do not experience. However you succeed or fail – God has claimed it all.
It is for this reason that once a year, in the solemn worship of Ash Wednesday, we return to the presence of God to be marked again – marked by oil and ash. Marked with the cross of Christ. Marked with the indelible ink of grace to proclaim that even our foibles and failings, even our mortality belongs to God. From dust we come, and to dust we shall return.
Lest this marking with ash and oil be misunderstood as some sort of macabre profession of hopelessness, let me assure you that it is the exact opposite. Marked with oil and ash we proclaim that the God who first formed humanity out of the dust of the earth – this God can and does do remarkable things with ashes and dust. The God who brought forth life from that which would have blown away dry and lifeless on the breeze, this God will breathe into you again and anew the breath of life. Marked with the indelible ink of grace, God can and will create something new and beautiful out of the ashes and dust of your life.
And so tomorrow, you are invited to come and be marked. Marked by ash and oil to remember that you are indelibly marked with grace. And then you are invited to make the journey toward the springtime of Easter where together we will proclaim that God raises new life from the ashes of death.
One more thought … if you have yet to be baptized and would like to receive this gift of grace, talk with me or Pr. Jim. We would love to celebrate your baptism at the Easter Vigil.
God Bless the Markings of Your Life--
Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.