09 March 2011

Brief Homily for this Morning...

...There's always something of a tension with hearing the Ash Wednesday Gospel about not disfiguring our faces to show that we are fasting, and then lining up to receive the ashes, isn't there?  Sometimes folk think that's what the ashes for which this day is named are doing:  announcing, look at me, I'm fasting.  Wrong.

Oh, your Lord assumes you will fast, even as He assumes you will pray and you will give to the poor.  He did not say "if" but "when."  When you fast, when you pray, when you give.  And have you ever pondered how tightly they are related?  When you fast, you free up time that you don't have to spend on finding or fixing food.  And you can use that time for prayer.  And you free up funds that you are not using to pay for food.  So you can give that away to the poor.  Our Synodical President has invited us to join him in daily praying the Litany this Lent.  Why not make time for doing so by skipping your lunch, giving that money away, and take up in prayer the needs of all the world and bring them before God and ask for His mercy upon all?

But back to the disfiguring of the face.  The ashes of this day do not mark you as fasting, for who knows if you are?  The ashes have another genesis.  Genesis three, in fact.  You recall how when our first parents had fallen into sin, God spoke to the serpent and said:  "On your belly you shall go and dust you shall eat."  Then He turned to Adam and said:  "And you, sir, ARE dust."  Adam and Eve looked in horror at the serpent as he licked his chops and they began to run away.  And we've been running from death every since.  But it is a futile race.  The old serpent can take his time.  He knows we carry in ourselves the venom that will bring us down finally - sin itself.  For that is what sin is:  it is death in hiding; and that is what death is, it is sin made visible. (Reardon)  So the ashes on your head today announce to one and to all:  Dead man walking.  Sinful, dying creature here.

And yet the ashes are always placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross to remind us that as much as our dying is a bedrock reality from which we cannot escape, there is an even deeper reality.  There is One who became our dying dust, though no poison of sin coursed through His veins.  He took that dust through death and burial and then on to a glorious resurrection and a life that never ends.  His risen from the dead, glorified dust has become the source of our eternal salvation.

Yes, you are dying.  Dust to dust.  Me too.  All of us will walk that way unless the glorious Appearing of our Lord comes first, but we can face death down through faith in Him who shared our dusty nature to make us divine, who became a child of man to lift us to being children of God, destined for heavenly glory in Him.  So you will go down to the dust, but not just to it.  With and in Him, you will go through it and be raised from the dust, glorified, to live with Him forevermore.

A blessed Lent to you, one and all.  Amen.


Rev. Thomas C. Messer, SSP said...

Simply beautiful, brother! How you manage to pack so much into a short homily like this is absolutely amazing.

Thanks for sharing.

William Weedon said...

Thanks, Thomas. The service time doesn't allow for much more than that.

tehazy said...

Thank you dear brother for sharing the will and love of the Lord.

Dave Lambert said...

Excellent. That was so good we posted it to our Twitter account at @LambertsOnline.

Robert Lyons said...

I am curious, Pastor Weedon... I see in Ash Wednesday photos and videos from Italy and other parts of southern Europe, the placement of ashes on the crown of the head as opposed to on the forehead.

Have Lutherans ever practiced that way, or has it always been (where used) on the forehead in Lutheran custom?


William Weedon said...

Father Rob,

The practice among Lutherans is not terribly old; something that more or less came back in the last 20 years or so. I'm not sure why the forehead is the place, but that's what the rubric notes.

Kevin Scheuller said...

Wonderful sermon! Especially illuminating how you dealt with the tension with the Gospel and the disfiguring brought on by ash imposition. Thanks to your dedicated service of the Word, I will never see that passage in the same way.

My approach did come to the conclusion you do. "Unto ashes we return but, thanks to Christ's death on the cross for us & his resurrection, we will not remain in the dust."

Dennis Peskey said...

I especially enjoyed the relationship of the imposition of ashes to the washing of regeneration found in our Baptism. Our Pastor stressed the correlation between the outward sign given us of the ashen cross on our foreheads and our efforts to remove this when we go home. The ashes visibly remind us of our sinful nature; only through baptismal waters can the horrible corruption of sin be washed away and mark us as one with Christ. As we look in the mirror removing the outward sign of sin, we remember the grace given for us through the cross and how Christ washing us and cleanses us of all sin. Kyrie Eleison