Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the first day in a journey through the wilderness – through a landscape devoid of creature comforts, where the reality of who we are can be more keenly felt. We begin this journey in a state of grace – having had our sins forgiven – but also marked out as penitents, as those who must make recompense for the harm and injury they have caused. This mark takes the form of ash – the burnt remains of last year’s palm crosses – usually applied as a cross marked on one forehead but also – as I have experienced – sprinkled on top of one’s head as water might be applied in baptism. We are as Christians baptised into both the death as well as new life of Christ, and so are called to be ready to bear what sacrifice that may involve. The words used tell us that from dust we came and to dust we shall return, reminding us of the second chapter of Genesis when God created the first human, the first earthling or groundling, using the dust of the earth, and the Spirit of God which breathed life into that first being. God did not just make the first humans from the dust of the earth, but in the same manner every living creature, so that together this crowd of God-inspired beings might tend and till the earth, maintaining its life to the highest standards of God’s own planting in the garden of Eden.
Ash Wednesday seems a very apt day for bringing to mind all the ways in which we as humans have harmed and damaged the living earth: killing wild and indigenous plants, replacing them with monocultures. Killing off the insects that we need to fertilise many of the crops that provide us with food. Killing directly and indirectly wildlife in such numbers that we are now the cause of the world’s 6th mass extinction. Polluting the soil, the air and the water. Over filling, many-fold, the atmosphere with CO2 and causing the first human induced climate change. Disregarding not just animal,life but also the lives and well being of our human brothers and sisters across the entire globe. Maybe our penance – the penance for those who see the harm we have as humans have caused – is raise the cry, to sound the alarm, to be prophetic, so that others too can be called to account. So that others too can be offered forgiveness and the means of making reparation. Such penance is not easy but it can change hearts and minds.
Let us be prophets this Lent. Let us be prophetic in action, prophetic in the minutiae of daily life and in the investments we make for the future. Let us be prophetic in actions that make God’s word made loud and clear. Let us be prophetic in our words. Let us be prophetic in our listening tuning into the what God is saying to us, both directly and through the voice of creation. And let us be prophetic in praising God, hopeful that in God’s wisdom the future of full of joy and peace.