Come to think of it, ashes are bewildering. They are frightening, proof of the destructive power of fire, a final statement of something gone, someone lost. Ashes are not part of everyday life, not since we’ve stopped using wood or coal in our homes.
Wildfires destroy communities, ashes fill the air miles and miles away, spreading the breaking apart, the tearing up, making it difficult and dangerous to breathe far far away.
I remember the towers of the World Trade Center imploding, disintegrating into clouds of ashes. People, the whole world that day covered in ashes.
Bewildering the ashes of our loved ones. Bewildering diagnoses we receive; the thought that our bodies waste away while we are in the middle of endeavors. Times of anguish and incredulity.
Yet today, at the outset of our Lenten journey with Christ, we mark ourselves with ashes. Bewilderingly ready to affirm our own brokenness, the brokenness of the world, the finitude of our nature bounded by cells, by space and by time.
The ritual of Ash Wednesday, the familiar words, Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return, make it possible to enter Lent in such an audacious way. We are safe inside the ritual, we are safe inside the body of Christ, safe inside the proclamation of Christ.
And so, peace settles in, peace settles over the bewilderment; infuses, fills the empty spaces, shows us a new creation. From death to life is Christ’s journey. From cross to resurrection.
And so, hear; hear the Word of God.
Trust the lovingkindness of God. Do not feel smug about it. Do not deal in grace like a commodity.Be reconciled to God. For you are reconciled. For our sake God made Christ broken and separated, so that we might become the righteousness of God:
We, all of us, the body of Christ, the church become the righteousness of God. A breathtaking claim.
What is God’s righteousness?
It is the saving, unrelenting, unending faithfulness of God blessing all the world.
And now, we, you and me, are to become – ashes and all, the righteousness, the justice of God in and for the world. Justice that is not punishment, but restoration, reconciliation, a new creation.That is who we already are and are still to become: the justice-working presence of God in and for the world. And because Christ made us God’s sons and daughters, our justice looks Christ-like, incarnate, ashen, cruciform.
God our creator affirms our earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes so that we partake in the brokenness of the world and speak the astounding, peace-filling, exhilarating, if you will bewildering promise of justice, love, mercy and grace.
Justice, love, mercy and grace are promised to all, the oppressed and the oppressing, the shamed and the shaming, the starving and those who order starvation. The magnitude of this call to mission need not paralyze or overwhelm us because exactly our own brokenness, our own finitude is made whole by Christ, reconciled, restored, infused by grace, and peace settles over us and in us.
Let the ashes bewilder us, sisters and brothers, that we remain sensitive and alert to hurt and to hubris.
Let the peace of Christ and his path from death to life enter us deeply, make us calm.
We go forward with God’s faithful love for creation, God’s justice for all creatures. Justice for dust and ashes. Looking to life out of death.