Here’s an Ash Wednesday homily for the 21st century!
We’ve all been there. Driving down the road – distracted by thoughts of this and that, when all of a sudden it happens, a car comes at you out of no where and you slam on the breaks or you quickly swerve to avoid a disaster. You could have been killed. You could have killed someone. Your life or someone else’s life could have been radically changed in an instant. As you pull back into traffic you are ever so conscious of the weight of you foot on the accelerator and you swear that you’ve got to be more careful. You begin to scold yourself. What were you thinking? Why weren’t you paying attention? Wake-up you could have been killed.
Welcome to Ash Wednesday. What have you been thinking? Why weren’t you paying attention? Wake-up — you are going to die!!! Ash Wednesday is your mid-winter wake-up call. Some of you may not need the wake-up call. Some of you know all too well that death is all around us. Some of you have lost someone dear to you. Some of you have felt that fear in the pit of your belly when the doctor suggests a particular test. Traditional Ash Wednesday worship would require us to focus on the brevity of life and remember that none of us will get out of this life alive. Our ancestors in the faith, entered into a morose season of Lent by via the awesome reminder that they came from dust and soon they shall return to the dust.
Lent was a season of lament and repentance based on a particular understanding of what it means to be human. Since the 11th century most of Christianity has understood the human condition as that of those who have fallen from grace. But we live in a post-modern world. We no longer believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans. We read Genesis not as history but as myth. We understand that humans evolved over millions of years. There was no perfect human condition for us to fall from.
What happens when you reject the theological construct of original sin? What happens when you embrace the idea that we are fiercely and wonderfully made? What happens when you see humanity as originally blessed?
Once you open up Pandora’s box you can’t just walk back out of the room and pretend that the theory of evolution doesn’t have something to teach us about what it means to be human. If we see our selves as incomplete creations rather than fallen sinful creatures, how then do we deal with our mortality?
Perhaps we can begin to express what it means to be human in terms that reflect our need to evolve in to all that we were created to be. Perhaps the brevity and uncertainty of life can begin to wake us up so that we can seize each and every moment. This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!
All that we love and care for is mortal and transitory, but mortality is the very reality that can become the inspiration for celebrate life and to love. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our human condition of mortality. But we should also remember the reality of creation itself is transformed by death and is constantly renewing itself. There is an eternal quality to creation, just as there is an eternal quality to life.
Tonight we embrace the promise that in death we are transformed into a new way of living on in God.Trusting that here and now we are living in God, we delight in the knowledge that in God we share in eternity. We are constantly dying, but we are also constantly living as we reflect God’s vision in the world of the flesh. This day, this moment is eternity for God is here, revealed in the wonders of creation; in the face of our neighbours, in the beauty of the earth, in the magnitude of the universe and in the miracles of sub-atomic particles. Tonight is our wake-up call.
We will not pass this way again. If we’ve been hibernating its time to take a deep breath and let ourselves be filled with the Spirit so that we can live fully, love extravagantly and be all that we were created to be. Yes we are dust, but we are earthly dust, springing forth from a multi-billion-year holy adventure.
Dust is good, after all; it is the place of fecundity, of moist dark soil, and perhaps we are as various scientists are suggesting: “star-dust” evolving creatures emerging from God’s intergalactic creativity. We are frail, but we are also part of a holy adventure reflecting the love of God over billions of years and in billions of galaxies.
So, how can we fail to rejoice in the colour purple, or pause in wonder at a baby’s birth? How can we fail to enjoy the beauty of a sunset or the splendor of a mountain range? How can we fail to embrace the sorrows that surround us with love? How can we remain deaf to the cries of our neighbours, or the pleas of our enemies? Tonight is our wake-up call?
Life is here for the living. This is eternity; right here, right now!!! Let the ashes we receive be the ashes of transformation; of awakening to the beauty and love of seizing the moment and living it to the fullest.
Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Let the memory of your incomplete humanity awaken you to the wonders, joys, sorrows, and pain of life.
Let it be said of you that here in this little part of eternity that you lived fully, loved extravagantly and helped humanity evolve into all that God dreamed we can be! Amen.
An Ash Wednesday Benediction