I’m not sure that I need any ashes to remind me of my mortality. I think the wake-up call that Ash Wednesday provides rang for me over a week ago. I was driving down the road – distracted by thoughts of this and that, when all of a sudden it happened, a car came at you out of nowhere and I slammed on the breaks and quickly swerved to avoid a disaster. I could have been killed. I could have killed someone. My life or someone else’s life could have been radically changed in an instant. As I pulled back into traffic, I was ever so conscious of the weight of my foot on the accelerator and I swore out loud to no one in particular! I began to scold myself. What was I thinking? Why wasn’t I paying attention? Wake-up you could have been killed!
Well, just in case you haven’t had a wake-up call like that recently, 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 our winter wake-up call. Some of us may not need the wake-up call. Some of us know all too well that death is all around us. Some of us have lost someone dear, others are walking with someone who is close to death. Some of you may have felt that fear in the pit of your belly when the doctor suggested a particular test. Wake-up calls come in all sorts of ways.
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 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 11thcentury 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 ourselves 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 into 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 of this incredible mystery that we call life. 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 within the MYSTRY that is the LOVE we call God. Trusting that here and now we are living in the MYSTERY, we delight in the knowledge that in this MYSTERY that is God, we share in eternity; eternity – that which has no beginning and no end. We are constantly dying, but we are also constantly living as we give particular expression to an aspect of the LOVE that is God.
This day, this moment is eternity for the MYSTERY 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 it is time to take a deep breath and let ourselves be filled with the Spirit of the LOVE that IS this MYSTERY in which we live and move and have our being, 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 the stuff of life. Dust 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 DIVINITY’s intergalactic creativity. We are frail, but we are also part of a holy adventure reflecting the LOVE that IS 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. Let the reality of our mortality awaken us to the beauty and the power 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, pain and wonders 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 the MYSTERY that set eternity in motion dreamed we can be!
Embrace your MORTALITY! Embrace the dark recesses of MYSTERY, for in darkness we were formed in darkness new life is begun. Embrace life in the midst of the MYSTERY that IS DIVINITY beyond our knowing, who, is was, and evermore shall be our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF. Amen.