Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
Today we are part of something very particular – perhaps peculiar – in the life of the church.
In this Ash Wednesday moment, we bless dirt. Ash and oil, mixed together and marked on our skin. We pray that somehow it becomes a blessing.
We recall the very moments of creation – when God took the dust of the ground and formed a human vessel and breathed into its being the very breath of life. We remember that we are created from the dust, and to the dust we will return. We are divine creatures in human vessels.
Lent is not about one person, or even one kind of person. We start this season of Lent in mourning, so that we can look ahead together to the joy of resurrection and new life. The mark of the ashes is our shared confession, and it means that at the end of the forty days, we will share in the resurrection as well.
Lent – the dying, the giving up, the taking on, the prayer, the study, the fasting, the giving – isn’t about us, at all. It isn’t about individuals trying to be better people. It isn’t even about a community pointing itself in a renewed direction. It is about setting ourselves aside, and recognizing that God is already working – working in us, working on us, and working for us. Our work is to get out of the way of what God is already doing.
Our work is to set distractions aside: Anything that controls us, to which we cling too tightly - anything that keeps us from deep experience, from full faith, from holy and wholly flourishing. We confess our sin. Not just to say that we’ve done things we shouldn’t, or that we’ve not done the things we should. But to say – again – that we have separated ourselves from God – again.
We confess we speak without thinking. Hurry when there is no emergency. Listen without hearing. Interrupt when waiting would do fine. Work without resting. Ignore the collective pains of the world around us. Disregard because understanding would take time. Help only those like us. Look without seeing. Spend and use as if our interests are all that matter. Compete even when there isn’t a contest. Decide without knowing. We perpetuate the separations between God’s beloved.
We admit that we're not who we should be, and this is where God steps in. We confess, individually and together, that we put other things ahead of our relationships and our faith. And when we do, God turns that confession to mercy. We fast, not so that we are made less, but so that God can make us more.
The mark of the cross is our confession, and it is our forgiveness.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.
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