A homily, based on Isaiah 58.1-12, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Chuurch, Laurens, SC, on Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Ashes. The physical, literal mark of our willful obedience to a tradition harkening back to ancient biblical times and earliest church history and our faithful repentance in turning away from our self-interested path toward the self-sacrificial way of Jesus and our mortal awareness that life, even at conception, is an inherently transient, terminal condition.
Obedience. Repentance. Transience. As we adorn our foreheads with ashes, let us pay heed to Isaiah who proclaims that the outward act is not as important as our inward intention, which must rise toward a higher calling than our personal, albeit well-meaning purposes.
For Isaiah, there is one purpose: To do God’s will, summarized by the phrase “to break the bonds of injustice.”
Our Litany of Penitence,(1) which, shortly, we will recite, delineates confessionally, nakedly a series of our common human injustices…
Principally, our failure to love God and our neighbors, from which springs the injustice of unforgiveness, deafness to God’s call to sacrificial service, the unfaithfulness of pride, hypocrisy, impatience, self-indulgence, exploitation of others, anger, envy, intemperance in our love of worldly things, negligence in prayer and worship.
Speaking alway only for myself, I do not, I cannot live through a moment, much less the whole of any given day without committing, in thought, word, or deed, one or more of these injustices. And though I speak for myself, I don’t believe I’m alone. Though ancient Isaiah’s words, contemporary is their indictment of our timeless and universal human propensity, rooted in our individual preferences and prejudices, not to break the bonds of injustice, not to untie the thongs of the yoke, not to free the oppressed, not to shatter every yoke.
As we enter these forty days of self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial, reading and meditating on God’s Word by adorning our foreheads with ashes to remind us of our common humanity, I ask myself and you what bonds of injustice will we break, what thongs of what yokes will we untie, who are the oppressed that we will free, what yokes will we shatter not only in this Lent, but in this life?
(1) The Book of Common Prayer, pages 267-269