By Christi Gerloff
I’ve always liked the feel of Ash Wednesday services. There’s just something special about the quiet, somber remembrance of what God did for us through His Son. This service started meaning even more when we lost my husband Jeremy’s sister to cancer in 2012, then my dad the following year, and Jeremy’s mom a couple years later. On Ash Wednesday we are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Yet our loved ones are also marked with the sign of the cross, the sign of death’s defeat and the promise of our own resurrection.
After receiving the ash cross in worship in 2015, my son Wyatt, three years old at the time, fell in love with this act. My little boy would give people crosses on their foreheads and say, “Jesus loves you.” Family members, friends, even our dogs were marked with the sign of death’s defeat by his tiny fingers. It was so sweet.
Wyatt loved that ash cross so much that it became a struggle getting him to wash the ashes off. Every year after Ash Wednesday service he’d always get so sad. In 2019, Jeremy came up with a great idea to commemorate Wyatt’s beloved ash cross. Jeremy put packing tape on Wyatt’s forehead to lift the ashes off. Then he placed the tape on an index card and wrote the date. This made our little boy so happy, and it is now a family tradition we will keep up.
The index cards tell a story of Ash Wednesday over the years. They remind me how fleeting life is and just how faithful God is.
This last summer Jeremy also died of cancer, like so many of our family members before him. At Jeremy’s funeral, the pastor said words that also belong to Ash Wednesday: “Dust we are and to dust we shall return.” Yet Jeremy was also marked with the sign of the cross, the sign of death’s defeat, the promise of Jeremy’s own resurrection.
Even though we won’t be gathering together at our church this Ash Wednesday, we’ll have the packing tape ready to capture and keep the same promise of our resurrection, the promise that we will receive with the sign of the cross. Wyatt still loves the ash cross. When I asked Wyatt what the ashes mean to him, he said, “Jesus loves me and God sacrificed His only Son all for us. It’s just so amazing.”
Jeremy held to that promise. He taught his children to hold onto that promise. And the family tradition Jeremy started will help us hold onto that promise this Ash Wednesday and every day until the promise of death’s defeat is finally and forever true. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.