A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, March 3, 2022

By: David H. May, Rector



The church in Corinth about drove Paul crazy. That congregation was divided into warring factions – bickertons – who all knew better than the other about the mystery of Jesus and his power. Each faction was certain that they – unlike the other factions – possessed the truth. Paul fired back – especially in his 2nd letter to them – that they had got it all wrong. Not their bickering and infighting and backbiting. That is to be expected of people even in the church. No, Paul, thundered at them, ‘I proclaim Christ and him crucified’ – and by that he means, the power of Jesus sacrificing love, love that led him to lay down his blameless life for those who bear much blame. The power of sacrificial love is the same power that gave birth to the sun and moon and stars and this good earth and you and me, and it is the only power than can save us from ourselves. The love of Jesus. So, ‘Be reconciled to God’ for Jesus’ sake.

Reconciliation, by the way, is the reunion of people who are separated from one another but are meant to be together. (We are in a new time when that seems all but impossible. The old chorus from fallen Eden is our daily food and drink: It’s your fault, no it’s your fault! You’re worse than me and besides you started it. No, you’re worse than me and you started it. It’s an endless, loveless, hopeless cycle that traps people inside it with a kind of centrifugal force, like the way a black hole in space spirals all matter – including light – into its dark mysterious annihilating depths.

Which, admittedly, is a pretty grim image. Am I saying there’s no way out?

Listen to Jesus’ words for us today. First, his instruction to pray and fast and give alms ‘in secret’ is an ‘inside baseball’ message. By that I mean it’s his word for those who want to follow him. It’s his word for the church. I suppose others are welcomed to listen in and comment if they like. But this is Jesus’ word especially for us. And it’s challenging. Because, at least, it’s a clear-eyed directive for us to do your own work regardless of anyone else. And that’s a hard word, because there are real wrongs and real harms done in this world, including to ourselves. But it’s worth remembering that that was the road Jesus went down. Paul reminds us that he is the one who died for us while we were still in sin. The Lord didn’t wait for all the harms and wrongs to be righted first. Which is the mercy of forgiveness.

Which leaves us, where?

There is a small scene in the hugely popular series The Durrell’s of Corfu that I watched last night that leaves a tantalizing clue. The scene involves Spiro the Greek guardian angel of the expatriate British family, Margot Durrell and Zoltan, a Turkish businessman living in Corfu who is madly in love with Margot. If you don’t know, there is no more ancient enmity and hatred that the Turks for the Greeks and the Greeks for the Turks. Homer wrote about this – so that’s about 2700 years ago.

Margot: say something you like about the other. Zoltan say, ‘I like the Parthenon.’ What I saw in the look that Spiro gave Zoltan and that Zoltan gave Spiro was the tiniest hint that maybe there could be a different future for them.

So on this Ash Wednesday, are we just supposed to feel badly about ourselves and the ways we have and do participate in repeating the chorus of a fallen Eden – it’s not my fault its yours? And are we supposed to just be mute witnesses to wrongs and harms we have received. No. That is not the intention of this day or this season. All that we say and do on this day is meant to show us the way to step out of the endless, loveless, hopeless centrifugal force we can get trapped in, and live with hope because you are – by the blood of Jesus – you citizen of the Kingdom of God, called to live in the light of his love, even before all the wrongs are righted.

But, you might feel with some reason: what can one person do? Well, what can one person not do? Hope born of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is a most powerful thing.

Marilynn Robinson quote.
Isn’t that what Zoltan did when he ventured to say (contrary to the ancient fight he’d been born into), ‘I like the Parthenon’. Isn’t that what Marilynn Robinson is suggesting of the one in a fight with their spouse who decides to leave the light on and supper in the oven.

Isn’t that the way of Jesus?