Some Christians make confessions with Ash Wednesday ashes. This year, I have a confession to make about Ash Wednesday ashes.
I forgot to order them. The small packet of ashes I had picked up from the Cokesbury store in Decatur a few years ago—guaranteed to have been made from last year’s palms, just like the hymn says—had lasted through several Ash Wednesdays. I thought we were good for another year…until last Sunday when I peeked into the small ceramic jar that holds the ashes. Empty. And the Cokesbury Store has closed. And Sunday was too late to order any by mail and have them delivered by Wednesday.
What to do?
Allen volunteered to smoke a cigar for me. “That’ll make great ashes,” he said. But no. Those ashes would smell like, well, cigars. So, Tuesday I stopped in at the new “Catholic Shoppe” on Highway 92. “May I help you?” the woman asked. “Do you have any ashes for Ash Wednesday?” I asked. The woman looked startled. Wide-eyed, she said: “You have to go to church to get those!” Okaaaay.
Time for Plan C or D, or whatever we were up to by then.
I texted a friend who serves a nearby church as Associate Pastor. “ASHES! Got ’em? I need ’em!” “Sure!” came the quick reply. “Stop by tomorrow.”
As I was leaving the office the next afternoon, I told Lynne where I was headed and for what reason. In response, Lynne said, “I just changed out the toner in the copier,” and smiled. I stood there. Plotting. “Would you like to look at the leftover toner?” Lynne asked. With eagerness I said, “Yes, I would!” I removed the lid and looked inside. Tiny black granules glistened beneath the fluorescent light. Oh, yes. They would do nicely! Then I thought some more…. “Are you really going to use those tonight?” Lynne asked. And I thought some more. Then, heaving a deep sigh, I said, “No, I’d better not. It looks like they would work perfectly…. but I’d just start laughing when I tried to impose those on people.” What would I say when I smudged people’s foreheads? “Made in the exact image of God?” No. That just wouldn’t do.
So, off I went to the nearby church. I told my friend about the exchange with Lynne and about the aborted toner-for-ashes plan. My friend’s response? “Oh, toner works great! It sticks better than ashes do!” Apparently, Lynne wasn’t the first person to think of using toner for ashes.
As my friend carefully tapped some ashes into a small container, I did a double-take. Those ashes looked JUST like copier toner! These black granules, though, had the advantage of not causing me to laugh hysterically when I used them.
As we hugged goodbye, my friend told me that earlier in the day, the new Senior Pastor had asked if the church had any Ash Wednesday traditions. “Just one,” my friend said. “Every Ash Wednesday afternoon at 3:00 I remember that I’ve forgotten to get ashes for the service. Then I spend from 3:00 to service time trying to find or create some.” My friend was more than happy to share her promptly-ordered ashes with my forgetful self. And I was glad to receive them.
So, there’s my Ash Wednesday confession. And now, to atone, I’m going to order next year’s ashes right now!