Clergy View: Ash Wednesday marks the reminder of our mortality

The Rev. Beth Pottratz

Mardi Gras, Shrove/Fat Tuesday or Carnaval — depending on where in the world your celebrations originate — happens next week, and is a time for big parties and celebration.

The history of all three of these celebrations has similar origins, all featuring over-the-top parties with tons of food, fun and drink, in order to get all of your celebrating out of your system before the 40 days of the Christian season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, this year, on Feb. 26.

Ash Wednesday, for some Christians, marks the start of Lent, a 40 day season focused on repentance, shedding old bad habits and changing for the better, all in preparation for celebrating Easter.

Ash Wednesday is marked with a reminder of our mortality, with a black mark of ashes placed on the forehead with the words “from dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” The change from the celebrations and party of Tuesday, to the mournful Wednesday, is a very stark contrast and a very quick change in mood.

As Spiritual Care Coordinator with Heartland Hospice, I often encounter people in moments of their life when it seems they’ve quickly changed from celebrating life to preparing for death. When facing death, people will often wonder where the hope and joys in life went. Hospice philosophy is to “live the best life that you can with the time you have left” with added care and support for managing symptoms, arranging services and care and coming to peace with your family and spirituality, to allow you to enjoy life the best that you can.


Even in the midst of death, in the midst of grieving the loss of our loved ones, in the midst of grieving the losses in our lives of the things that used to be but are no longer the same, we find a new normal, new opportunities arise, new people come into our lives. Death is a time of loss, of grief and of sadness. Death can also be a meaningful time of celebrating life together, remembering love shared, serving others through caregiving, sharing stories, leaving a legacy and making the most out of the time left together.

Ash Wednesday reminds us death is a part of living — losing ones we love as much as our own death. But it's not all about death and mourning, Ash Wednesday is also about hope, the hope that God takes what is broken and repairs it, loving us for who we are, faults and all. God, who turns death into new life, takes our dust and turns us into new creations, new beings, living life new and different. Whether or not you celebrate Ash Wednesday, my hope for you is that you are able to look for, find and hold on to the new life and new hope coming out of the places of death, loss or sadness in your life.

The Rev. Beth Pottratz is Hospice Spiritual Care Coordinator for Heartland Hospice and pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church.
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