grace and ashes: a reflection on john 8 for ash wednesday


Our gospel tonight is an illustration of the immense grace of God shown in Jesus

Not tied by tradition and the revenge and shame culture  that was presented to him by those who had caught out this woman, he lives the very nature of his love and grace.

He does not excuse the sin.

Nor does he ignore the context, the vindictiveness with which others have judged her

So he challenges and acknowledges their sin too

And gradually each of them becomes aware of their need of grace

And their need of forgiveness,

whether they can face it or not, and most probably cannot.

they , each of them clutching their stones, as if by punishing another they might vindicate themselves

they realise that they cannot stand, that  they have transgressed just as she has

Imagine those stones,

Dropping one by one to the ground,

Slipping from hands released from their anger by the presence of grace

Uncurled from an act of violence

And dropping,

Stone, by stone to the ground

As  the accusers melt away,

To think perhaps, to reflect,  but to certainly  go from that place changed a little, or a lot


And the woman,

She is changed too, in  that moment

She has come, involuntarily as it was, to stand before the one who does not condemn ,  but who loves, and loves and loves.

who wants to love her, and her accusers into change.

Grace is extended,

she is not to be punished, but she is to change.

All that she is, and has been, is gathered and given to the one who made her, from  the dust,

Who writes in the dust and who transforms the dust & dirt of her life by his grace.

Today we come aware of our own frailties and failings,

Perhaps knowing that “there but for the grace of God “

As we come to be ashed, we come to accept our mortality and our humanity

And within that, our inability to transform ourselves.

We acknowledge our infinite ability to mess up,

To undo creation and make dust from the stuff of life.

We come understanding that only the God who created us from the dust can redeem and transform our dust and ashes,

Only he holds it, and can work with it.

As we come , we come asking for his grace,

Gathering up the dust of our lives, for him to work his creative, grace -filled work once more.

To bring life to the ashes of our life, to work resurrection in us.

Blessing the Dust
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

Did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made,
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

–Jan Richardson

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