Sermon Starter for Ash Wednesday: Blood and Dust

January 14th, 2011

Last Ash Wednesday, I gave blood for the first time since before becoming pregnant with my daughter almost two years earlier. My father and his mother are/were big blood donors, and after 9/11, I overcame my fear and became a donor myself. My iron is sometimes too low and I get deferred, and I almost always get warm and lightheaded and have to lay back and put my feet up. And I hate squeezing the stress ball every ten seconds, because it makes the skin on my arm tug uncomfortably around the needle. But still, it's an important thing to do, if you can, so I do.

Giving blood is a sacramental act, in a way--the shedding of one's blood for the benefit of others, to save others' lives. Since it happened to be Ash Wednesday, it wasn’t hard to see the theological significance linking this act and the act of receiving a cross of ashes on my head this evening. The imparting of blood... the imposition of ashes... "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return..."

I always love Ash Wednesday, and find such meaning in that reminder of our own impermanence. Coupled with the themes of penitence and self-sacrifice, the imposition of ashes reminds me of our seeming insignificance before God. And yet, as the psalmist says, "what is man that you are mindful of him?" In a great, big universe, we seem very small, and yet God loves and cares for us. I am dust, and yet I gave part of my body away today. I am theoretically nothing, and yet I am something to whomever receives that life-saving fluid. I am broken and flawed, and yet God says I have something to give. This paradox embodies the lesson I take from today: that my body--my life--is worth nothing unless I give it away.

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