Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.Ash Wednesday
To prepare the ashes for Ash Wednesday it is our custom to take the blessed palms from the year before and burn them, adding blessed oil. These are the ashes that are placed on our foreheads as a mark of repentance.
We take the palms that were used to celebrate the triumphal entrance of Christ Jesus into Jerusalem. The people sang halleluiahs, rejoicing because they believed that their rescue was just around the corner. We take those dried up palms, the palms that became symbols of disappointment, and turn them into the ashes of repentance. The symbolism is stark.
What we need to understand is that we Christians have been drafted by God through our baptisms to be part of the solution to the problems of our world. We are the rescue that God is sending into the world. The world should be able to rejoice in us. But many Christians are not even aware that they have been recruited. Their focus is on getting to heaven when they die and not on bringing heaven to earth. They seek the peace of knowing they are saved as individuals and forget that salvation is a communal affair and that all of creation is waiting to be saved. They become like dried up palms because they offer nothing to the world’s need for rescue.
One thing we all know is that all of us fail to be the persons we were created to become. We fall short and we too become like dried up palms. So, every Ash Wednesday we Christians need to begin our 40-day retreat with the mark of repentance. We need to repent for all the ways we have neglected to do the good that we could have done and the ways we have failed to be Christ to the world. We need to repent of any harm we have caused. We need to determine to do better this year.
We are called to create communities of peace, justice, and love. Instead we can get caught up in the ways of the world we live in, caught up in the systems of the world and forget that we belong not to the world but to Christ. We can forget that we are part of God’s solution for the world and go about doing things in the same ways as those around us, caught up in the same racism, sexism, classism, nationalism, and other isms that divide us.
All of us who are baptized into Christ are called to continue Christ’s ministry here on earth. We need to stop worrying about getting to heaven or avoiding hell when we die. We can rely on the love of God to see to our eternal life. What we need to do is get our eyes back on where we are, what is going on around us, and focus on the ways we can bring rescue to humanity and to creation in our little part of the world. We can all do something and we can all do our best to avoid harming others.
And so, we mark our foreheads with dirt or ashes as a sign of our repentance. Repentance means to turn away from those things that prevent us from being the light of Christ to the world. Let us turn toward creating communities of justice, peace, and love. We all belong to groups of one kind or another and each one of those groups can become a place of justice, peace, and love. Imagine if all Christians throughout the world would repent and get on with what God has asked of us. We could bring more of heaven to earth. Maybe this Lent we can make it so.
At Easter we will renew our baptismal promises, our commitment to be Christ for the world. May the practices of Lent prepare us to renew our baptismal call to ministry so that one day creation may truly rejoice in us. All creation is waiting for the children of God to be revealed.
My beloved ones in Christ, may we all turn away from sin and be faithful to the good news of Christ.