These are notes for a sermon I preached on Ash Wednesday after 9/11
As I was looking at resources for Ash Wednesday I came upon the United Methodist Church
website and saw in bold letters:
WARNING - ashes and water do not mix - will cause burning!!
And so it does. It makes a mixture that will burn skin. But the image captured my imagination and I thought it is even truer than the physical effects of mixing ash and water. Water and ashes are two of our most powerful symbols.
Water, used for Baptism where we are first marked with the sign of the cross representing birth, new life, renewal, and liberation from slavery.
Today is Ash Wednesday, when we are once again marked with the sign of the cross, now representing our mortality, death, endings, and enslavement.
Burning, to me symbolizes the power of the Spirit coming alive in our lives, the awareness of our finite time on this earth and the power of the resurrection combine to light the fire of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Ashes bring home the reality of death -- we are mortal, we will die. This year we are even more aware of the meaning of ashes as we saw the terror of September 11. As we say in the imposition of ashes - "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." But that is not the end of the story. Easter tells us that there is not just death and endings. Easter comes to tell us that we are also to “remember that we are love and to love we will return.”
Let us consider Lent as journey from today - Ash Wednesday. Recognizing our finite time here on earth, journeying to Easter and coming back to the awareness of the fullness of life as granted in our creation in the image of God.
I have always thought the Ash Wednesay Gospel was odd for the imposition of Ashes. We hear that we should not practice our piety in public but perhaps we take this so seriously we become afraid of practicing any piety before others and yet...
The prophet, Joel, calls to us -- “Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the aged, gather the children, even infants at the breast and why -- so people will not ask “where is their God?” Let us show forth the holiness of our creator, so people will know that we are a holy people - commited to God and followers of Jesus Christ.
How might we do this? I suggest we move beyond chocolate to declare our own fast ---
Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love
What will be your fast? What will be your feast?
(Litany: h/t to PB Arthur Lichtenberger - expanded)