Reflection for Ash Wednesday
By Mary Rodriguez
Lectionary reading for 3/2/2022: Psalm 51:1-17; Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 or Isaiah 58:1-12; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
Selected passage for reflection: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 and Isaiah 58:1-12
Joel 2:1-2, 12-13 (NRSV)
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near--a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
Isaiah 58:6-9, 11 (NRSV)
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
It has been roughly two years to the day that the world began grappling with the Coronavirus Pandemic. As I write this, we are over 5.8 million people less that we were two years ago. In the USA alone, over 940,000 people have died prematurely from this virus, especially in communities with poorer social determinants of health.
And as I mourn for those I have known who have died, and weep for the many more to whom death has climbed up and entered through windows like a thief (Joel 2:9), I have much angst and sorrow, as indeed it has felt like a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!
I know that from dust we have come, and to dust we will all return.
But how do I keep my heart from becoming cold as the winter’s ice? Is not this anger toward systems of inequity that have so burdened the poor justified? Is it possible to not be consumed with disgust at injustices - like a thick darkness? How do I rend my heart, and not my clothing?
Turn to the LORD, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Yes, our reaction to great gloom should be to respond and to restore. Our fast should be to loose the bonds of injustice, undo the cords, free the oppressed, and then break every last yoke. We ought feed the hungry, clothe the naked, satisfy the needs of the afflicted, and not hide our eyes from our own humankind.
Then, our light shall break forth like the dawn. Healing will come, and we’ll realize God is with all of us still. Even when we are feeling parched and burnt out, the LORD will guide and satisfy our needs, fortifying our bones and helping us continue to stand with each one of our neighbors, near and far.
From dust each of us has come, and to dust each of us will return. Same dust. God creates and breathes into us all. Let us draw near to the God who steadfastly loves each one of us. Let us help each other breathe and thrive.
Go now, in peace, to effect change, promote justice and share kindness. Fast from injustice. Fast from resignation. Fast from apathy. Fast from blindness to your neighbor. Shine forth in the darkness and gloom with God’s great love. For our time here is finite. We will return to dust. Be lovely dust.
Almighty God, who is able to make all things new and to restore life anew every morning, help me never to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the constant renewing of my mind. Help me today, my LORD, to discover your good, perfect, and acceptable will, and to focus all of my desire and energy upon doing it. Amen.
(prayer from A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People)
About the Author
Mary Rodriguez works in Chicago in case management services, trying to help people struggling with mental illness, homelessness, and other injustices related to racism, ageism, and ableism. Mary has often been amazed at people’s resilience, and she keeps perspective and passion by remembering we are all kin.