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Ash Wednesday

"We are But Dust"

Readings: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17a; Psalm 103:8-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm,” says Joel to the people of Israel. He sends out a terrible warning to the people as he warns of a dreaded locust plagues. He describes the threat with dire warnings that fill the people with fear and a sense of helplessness. He calls them to turn back to God. He calls them to do more than simply go through the rituals. He admonishes them to acknowledge who God is and that God is in contol. Even though they face a terrible threat, even though everything seems to be out of control, yet God reigns. “Even now”, he is saying, “it is not to late. Turn to God and ask God to spare the people.”

What does it say to us as we celebrate Ash Wednesday, as we begin this Lenten Season? For that matter, why do we do what we do on Ash Wednesday? As I reflect on it, the call of Joel is still, twenty four hundred years later, a contemporary message. We all know what darkness the future can hold. In this wealthy country of ours we know what darkness the future can bring. The economic problems of last year leave many seniors wondering whether they will have enough for their future needs. There is unemployment. More people are working part time simply because they cannot find full time employment. Shockingly, there are children who go to bed hungry even in Canada. There are homeless people living on the streets of our cities. Worldwide people face war, famine, pandemic … The people of Haiti must feel as if everything is out of control. They must feel totally helpless as they try to pull the pieces of their lives together following the dreadful earthquake.

Is God calling us to examine why we do what we do? Is God calling us to understand that we need to return to God in a real way?

Why do we do what we do on Ash Wednesday? Why do we take ashes and smear them on our foreheads? Why do we look for things to give up or take on during Lent? We need to drive home a message about ourselves and our destiny. We were formed from the dust of the earth. God has breathed into our dust giving it life. Those facts are the foundation of human hope. We are more than the physical entity that we see. We have immense significance. We are sacred. We know sin and violence. We know too that we have need for atonement. Ash Wednesday convinces us of our dark side.

Our modern age denies that we are dust. We take charge of our humanity. We see ourselves as the owners of our destiny. We need reminders that we are but dust. We need to remember what we really are. We need to remember as well that we are creatures who can turn this planet into dust. Ash Wednesday can be a clear reminder to us of the charge over creation that God has given us. It can be a call to us to be stewards of God's creation.


Is God calling us to “sanctify a fast”? Is Lent calling us to make sacrifices? And I don't mean giving up chocolate, although that might be something we decide to do. For we need to ask ourselves for what reason we are giving something up? We know that as Canadians we are the ultimate consumers. Is Lent a call to examine our footprint and to make changes that cut down on our consumption? What worthy causes can we support ? Can Lent be a call for us to exmine our givings to the Church and to other worthy causes? Is it time to make some changes in our life style? Are their healthy alternatives to our usual diet? Can we walk more instead of getting into the car? Is it a call to a sacred agenda, to find time for prayer, study and fasting? Are there issues in our personal faith that need to be addressed?

Jesus says in the Gospel, “Give alms, pray, fast!” Lent should remind us that we do not have to impress God with our goodness. We do need to acknowledge our sinfulness and our need to change. And so I offer you an opportunity to begin a Holy Lent. Let us reflect on our call and begin the Lenten journey with new resolve to be all that God is calling us to be.
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