Ash Wednesday Reflection

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 51:1-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-16, 16-21

With the passing years, I find myself more and more aware of the rhythms of life, whether in the daily routine that supports a sustainable balance in our social experience, or in the natural order, such as the rhythms of the waves on our shores or the changing of the seasons.

There is also a rhythm to the church calendar, and we are again at the time of the year prompting us to remember: our own earthly existence is a part of that rhythm, especially that part of the rhythm of life that will involve and succeed our own death.

One way of viewing these things is to recall that as creatures of the earth, we never really distance ourselves very far from the soil and the natural order. So I frequently think about the cycles of life from the perspective of one who has tilled the soil. Actually, before I was anything else in this life I was a farmer. In the early part of the year a farmer thinks about what to plant. A farmer considers all available resources—financial, labor, supplemental inputs—and then market conditions—what the world is signaling that it needs. (We do that with our families, churches, and businesses too when we generate plans for the year.)

A field is a microcosm of all that happens in the natural world, dynamic interactions of biological and other physical forces. Trying to organize the human touch in a way that will produce a healthy product and a sustainable process, in other words, in a way that will leave the field an indispensable part of nature, requires careful planning, wisdom, and good intentions.(I submit that the same careful approach is recommended in our social interactions, as well.)

On the farm a year starts with preparation of the seedbed. Part of the preparation of a seedbed involves plowing under the dead and dying remnant of the previous crop, which becomes part of the nutritional support for the next crop. This is not the occasion for lamentation. It is actually a good thing that the remnant of the previous crop is available to provide nutrition for the next. (Query how this analogy may help us to leave the past behind—to move on from the struggles of earlier periods in our social

So, farmers are intimately familiar with the relationship between death and life, and in reflecting on their experiences we realize our own life and contribution to the surrounding world appears to be a part of an on-going story of life and death. It thus becomes clear: when we are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return, we realize that indeed our legacy will be influence we have on those who will succeed us, and theirs will have an impact upon their successors, until the end of time.

Wanting that influence to be for good, we thus repent, and our cycle of life in the church annually invites us to repent, recognizing the need, which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. We do this so that individually and together we may have new and contrite hearts, that our lives may nurture the lives of others, and that by God’s gracious gift we may have everlasting life.

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