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Planning for tonight’s service with the Worship Committee, I made mention that when it came time to mark a worshiper with ashes that I would offer a choice – forehead or back of the hand. There was the slightest of pauses, and then one and another said, “I never heard of using the back of the hand”. I don’t recall how it happened in my past that I made use of the back of the hand, but I know I have. Then I began to wonder about marking the forehead with ashes in the sign of the cross. How come the forehead? How come?
What is it about the middle of the forehead that is so special? I know that some followers of Hindu faith will speak of a third eye located there. We have seen, haven’t we, caste markings on the foreheads on men and women from the Indian subcontinent? But we aren’t either of those categories, so my mind went to musical production in which our son, Drew, had a role as a 14-year-old: Children of Eden. In this show, there is a song that builds tension around the mark of Cain which appears on the forehead of Cain, placed there by God. This marking happens after Cain kills his brother, Abel, and is found in Genesis 4: 9 – 16
A better scholar than I am could make the case with more authority than I will that the ashes placed on the forehead put the sign of the cross over the mark of Cain. It just fascinates me that the Biblical record is so contemporary; that is, Cain who is guilty of sin, understands that his life is now in jeopardy, in real danger because, as someone who has killed his brother, he is fair game for anyone who might want to kill him too, I don’t know, steal his grain, or take his cloak. Cain has no one to protect him: no family for Adam and Eve cannot shelter him after he has killed their other son, Abel. Cain will not have any friends, or tribe, to protect him, for he has proven himself untrustworthy and dangerous to his neighbors. What will become of him, this sinful, vulnerable, fearful man who is responsible for his terrible situation? He has no one to blame but himself. As the TV detective said years ago, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,’ and Cain is facing a lifetime of exile that will likely lead to his own death at the hands of strangers in the near future.
“Not so,” says God. “If anyone kills you, Cain, I will take vengeance sevenfold,” which sounds like a lot to me. Then God marks Cain as a warning to anyone who might try to take advantage of Cain’s exile and attack him. God protects Cain. The mark of Cain is both the sign of sin, and a promise of protection. Cain deserved the harshest punishment, more harsh than exile if we follow and ye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, except that will not happen here by God’s decree.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one of us to our own way”.(Isaiah 53:6). In our straying, we find ourselves here tonight. Each of us is a descendent of Cain, spiritually speaking, and is marked with his mark. We deserve God’s displeasure, yet are promised God’s protection, and God’s protection from each other. So when the mark of Jesus is placed over the mark of Cain, we proclaim that in Christ, the mark of Cain is covered. Gone. Our sin is buried in the sacrificial love of Christ who died on the cross that we might live – not in exile from God and one another, but in communion with God and with one another. In Christ Jesus, Amen.