Why I’m doing ashes on the go

To do ashes on the go or not, that is the question many Lutheran pastors face. There is actually a significant amount of debate about this — is it appropriate, inappropriate, or adiaphora? I lean towards adiaphora, a good Lutheran term that means it ultimately doesn’t matter and has no bearing on our salvation so do what works in your context. And in my context, ashes on the go works.

Think of ashes on the go as similar to a drive through window for your order of food. Many pastors think this demeans the practice. Many think it cheapens the message. Many argue that people should come to a full service to remember that they are dust and to dust they shall return. People should make the time to attend a service when it is offered this coming Wednesday. Or that pastors ought to offer a service at different times so those that don’t normally come will have an opportunity to go either early in the morning or late at night.

I understand these arguments and I’m willing to say that there is plenty of truth in many of these statements. Yet…Yet, I’m still offering ashes on the go. While people “ought” to go to a church service, we both know that many won’t. In our culture where more and more people have not had an interaction with a church and where church is not the primary mover of culture and society anymore, there are many things that people “ought” to do when it comes to church that just aren’t going to happen. We could offer a service at 6am for the folks who go to work early — guess what, if they aren’t part of a church, those folks aren’t going to magically show up. They don’t go to church now, why would they go any other day?

So why am I offering ashes on the go this coming Wednesday? Because I can for one thing. Because Jesus didn’t say wait inside your church buildings for people to come to you. Because Jesus said to go and tell. I’m doing ashes on the go because it is an opportunity for people to hear the counter cultural message of the Gospel — that you are going to die, but that is not the end of the story.

Do you realize how radical it is to tell people they are going to die? That’s what “you are dust and to dust you shall return” means. It means you are going to die, your body is going to decompose. But that is not the end. Far from it. God has more in store for all of creation.

I’m doing ashes on the go because there is a better chance that someone who receives ashes will seek baptism than if we make them jump through hoops to get ashes or receive communion — especially when they are spiritually hungry. I am doing ashes on the go because I believe God shows up in the craziest of places and does miracles, even in a short interaction. I am doing ashes to go because it’s not about me putting ashes on a person’s forehead. It’s about God’s word being spoken to someone — the Word that has the power to transform a person in an instant.

If you think ashes on the go is cheapening the whole thing, then here is my suggestion — don’t do it and don’t receive it. But don’t wail and moan about it and expect me to sit by with a smile on my face as you rip it apart.

I’m doing ashes on the go because there are many people out there who have never encountered Jesus, or had a terrible experience with church. I’m doing ashes on the go because there are plenty of people out there who are just waiting to encounter Jesus and don’t know it yet — and they would never step foot in a church. So I’m going where they are, in their context — in the midst of the hustle and bustle of their busy lives. I’m going to say the words “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” And for a moment, the reality of life and death will be right there, in and on people’s faces. No hiding. And I believe that God will do amazing things as a result — things that I may not ever know about.

Yes, I’m going ashes on the go. If you find yourself on the Miracles mile between Carlisle and Mechanicsburg, PA on Wednesday morning from 7am on, stop by. I’ll be in the parking lot of Flying J and Dunkin Donuts. I’d love to talk and give ashes.

Originally published at laceduplutheran.com on February 9, 2018.



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Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.