On Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras, in anticipation of Ash Wednesday, a personal reflection, based on Isaiah 58.1-12.
The placing of ashes on the forehead in the sign of a cross is a physical mark of obedience to a tradition harkening back to biblical times and earliest church history and of repentance, turning away from a self-interested path toward the self-sacrificial way of Jesus and of awareness that life in this world is a transient, terminal condition.
Obedience. Repentance. Transience.
In preparing for Ash Wednesday, I reflect on the words of Isaiah. The prophet proclaims that outward action is not as important as inward purpose. And for Isaiah, there is one purpose: To do God’s will, summarized in the phrase “to break the bonds of injustice,” immediately elaborated by the wording “to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to break every yoke.”
The Litany of Penitence, recited on Ash Wednesday, confessionally, nakedly lists a series of common human injustices. Principally, the failure to love God and our neighbors, from which springs unforgiveness, resistance to sacrificial service, pride, hypocrisy, impatience, self-indulgence, exploitation of others, anger, envy, intemperate love of worldly things, and negligence in prayer and worship.
For my sinfulness, 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.
Isaiah’s words are ancient. However, contemporary is their indictment of humanity’s timeless and universal predisposition, rooted in our individual preferences and prejudices, not to break the bonds of injustice, not to undo the thongs of the yoke, not to free the oppressed, not to break every yoke.
As I prepare for Ash Wednesday, reflecting on Isaiah’s call, I, in obedient repentance (and in repentant obedience) ask myself: What bonds of injustice will I break? What thongs of what yokes will I undo? Who are the oppressed that I will free? What yokes will I break?
And not only in this coming season of Lent, but, given my transient nature, as long as my life lasts.
© 2021 PRA
 The Book of Common Prayer, pages 267-269