what matters… a homily for Ash Wednesday

wpid-1393950943712.jpgThere’s always a bit of a disconnect with the tradition of the church and the gospel we have for Ash Wednesday. In this passage Jesus is warning his listeners about outward signs of  piety, doing  “religious stuff” to make ourselves look better.

We might not sound a trumpet when we give to charity, or pray on street corners, but we’ve come today to church, and we return to our everyday lives with this unusual dirty smudge on our faces that says…

Well what does it say?

And to whom?


First of all it reminds us of the Cross;

the smudge to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the artistic talents of the asher,  is  in the shape of a cross; a reminder of where it all starts, and ends and from where our life comes .

Death and resurrection.

We feel the shape of the cross as we are signed, we can feel it’s weight on our skin, Its physical, real.

The smudgey cross speaks also of our baptism when we were signed with that cross in oil, blessed and symbolising God’s blessing on our lives.

Today the oil is mixed with ashes, reminding us of our sin and mortality, the ways in which we’ve messed up God’s good gifts for us and so this smudge says that we are all broken and fallen, we are dust and ashes.

Nothing WE can do can change that. BUT the cross on our heads says that Jesus can,

the Cross says we’re forgiven and pardoned,

the Cross says “ go and sin no more”  you have a fresh start.

So we walk out of church with all this written on our faces.

And what do those around us see?

A dirty mark

A religious ritual?

Maybe a glimpse of something transcendent and other?

Perhaps all and any of these

But the real meaning  of the smudge is for us, not them

We carry our repentance inside us not outside in marks & symbols

We carry our forgiveness within us because we are loved, not as a show outside because we need to prove our worth to others.

And so we come back to the gospel reading that tells us not to make outward show.

It’s about our hearts.

We know forgiveness in our hearts , we don’t need others to know it, so we prove we’re  “ok”

This smudge probably signifies nothing to those around us,

But what matters for them is what has happened inside us

The change that forgiveness brings, the fruit of repentance in our lives,

What matters for them is the way we become more Christlike, more like Jesus

What matters for them is the new life we’re living the working for the Kingdom,

transforming lives because ours have been transformed.

So whether you wipe your face or leave your mark,

What matters today is what happens inside.

The knowledge of sins forgiven

& the transformation of our world by the living of Gods new life, to show his love and forgiveness to others and to begin to bring the Kingdom into being, here in our lives and the lives of those around us.



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