18 February 2015

A Brief Homily for Ash Wednesday

Today at the chapel service at the International Center, Ash Wednesday will be observed in prayer, song, preaching, and the imposition of ashes. Here's the homily:

Two words for today. Remember. Return.

Remember first. These are the words that go with the ashes for which this day is named: “Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Sad words from the saddest day of human history. The day Adam and Eve opened the door and invited in death to their bodies, to this world, into their children. And from that day to this, the grave has been our common destiny. And too often we have helped each other to it. We think of the martyrs now dying for Christ in north Africa, in Syria, in Nigeria. As Luther put it in is his hymn: “In the very midst of life death has us surrounded!” Accidents, disease, malice and murder. It’s all around. So, remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

So the ashes of this day have nothing to do with fasting. Our Lord warned against making a public show of your fasting with disfiguring your face, of your giving or your praying. No. The ashes of this day simply announce: “You're looking at a dying man living in the midst of dying men. We don’t know when, but do know that the grave is where we’re headed. Remember.”

And remember this too, that the ashes will go onto your head in the form of a cross. The cross of Him who became dust and ashes that He might lift from our race the sin that is the cause of our death and bear it Himself to destroy it and so to destroy death. That He might suffer and die on His cross as we all die, be buried as we will be buried, but then rise as we also shall rise, raised by His life-giving Spirit on the Last Day. Remember that too!

And remembering, heed the call from Joel that the choir sang us: Return! “Return to the Lord Your God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” Return because you remember that you are dying, and why you are dying. So return to Him who has more life to give you than you’ve got death, more forgiveness than you’ve got sin. Return to Him who eagerly waits for you to come to Him. Who never says: "What? You here again for forgiveness for THAT?" Rather, Him whose steadfast love always throws His arms around you and welcomes you home.

Let this whole season of Lent be for you a time of return to Him: each and every day coming to Him. Pick up your Treasury anew and meet Him there in His Words! Turn to Him every day in prayer—how well the litany would serve for this!  In the Sacrament, and in your neighbor in any need that you see. You will meet Him there too.

Remember…return. A blessed Lent to you all!

1 comment:

Elsa Quanbeck said...

Very well said! The Ash Wed. texts always seem somewhat contradictory to the action of the liturgy. Thank you for opening that up for us. Kind regards.
Elsa Quanbeck