The following sermon was preached on Ash Wednesday, February 22 2023, at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here

Photo by Thays Orrico on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

The liturgical year is designed to help us reflect in ritual ways on a wide variety of human experiences. There are many liturgies that focus on the life of Christ, but there are also liturgies to celebrate rites of passage in the life of an individual like baptism, marriage, and funerals. We have Candlemas – a liturgy designed to celebrate light. We have All Saints and All Souls – liturgies designed to help us remember capital “S” saints and also all the saints, all the people who have died, and in particular the ones we remember with love. We even have a liturgy to celebrate our pets – the Feast of Saint Francis.

Today is Ash Wednesday and today we are called to remember one specific thing: We are all going to die. Every single one of us. No one can escape it.

And the church in its wisdom says, “So you better not ignore it either.”

Generally speaking people don’t really like to talk about death. We go out of our way to ignore the subject or soften it by using euphemisms.

My mother passed…. 5 years ago we lost our father…. My brother is no longer with us…

All of these are ways of talking about death without talking about death.

When I was doing some of my pastoral training we were taught to speak very clearly and specifically about death, especially if you were going to be the first person to inform someone that a loved one had died.

Hearing that someone has died is a really hard thing to process and those euphemisms can make it even more confusing.

“I’m sorry, but we’ve lost your Father.”

“Well then hurry up and go find him!”

You can see the sort of confusion and unnecessary pain this kind of language can cause.

Ash Wednesday does not let us sink into euphemisms. A little later in the service, if you choose to participate, you will come forward, and Beverley and I will look you in the eyes and tell you you are going to die and then we will mark your forehead with ashes as a further and physical reminder of that fact.

Over the years I have said these words to very senior people and to tiny, tiny babies. I have said these words to friends and family members.

I always leave this service feeling very awe struck and humbled by the experience.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Remember you are going to die.

It is an important truth that the church calls us to reflect on this day. It can be a really good and healthy thing to develop a comfort in talking about death, to think about your own death and to make some preparations even. To create a will, to think about the hymns or readings you’d like at your funeral service.

In my experience it is always a good thing to find ways to talk about hard things like death, to normalize those kinds of conversations.

Because in my experience the things we avoid talking about, the things we hide or repress…. those are the things that get weird. Those are the things that very quickly become unhealthy.

Surely it is possible to swing to the other extreme and instead of avoiding conversations about death to fixate on it to an unhealthy degree, but most people are no where near that end of the spectrum.

And the church encourages us to normalize conversations about death, but most of our liturgies focus on life and living life to the full.

There is a good and healthy balance built into the liturgical year. Not every Wednesday is Ash Wednesday.

Today’s liturgy also has a focus on sin and repentance as we move into the season of Lent. A focus on all the little deaths we experience every day. The ways we do not live fully into who we were created by God to be.

Today we are given a space to remember that we will die, to reflect on our sin and to repent because new life is also always available to us.

We will all die, but death is not the end. This season in the church year begins with Ash Wednesday, but it ends with Easter Sunday.

It ends with resurrection.

And this rhythm, this balance, this call to acknowledge both death and life, sin and repentance, this call to acknowledge the fullness of what it means to be human in the presence of a God and loving God…. this sounds like good news to me.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.