Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for us to reflect upon human fragility. To recognize that we don’t have all the answers. That we can’t always solve all the problems that come before us. We acknowledge this not as an excuse not to try to be better. Indeed we strive to love our neighbour as Jesus followers. But we also know that we have limits. That we cannot do everything. That we cannot track every crisis well enough or know it’s history thoroughly enough, while we try to do our part.
What I have discovered over these two years of pandemic is that Covid has taught us about our limits in ways we don’t care to learn or acknowledge. We are used to finding technological fixes to our problems. And in many ways it is amazing we have not one but several vaccines all helping millions of us get through a global pandemic largely in tact. In times past, thinking about great plagues there were simply millions more people who died with no vaccines and few medicines available.
And so we find ourselves giving thanks for the things we do have, the relatively stability for many of our lives, while mourning with people who have lost loved ones and jobs. People whose businesses have failed, people find their mental health has left them adrift.
Only weeks ago we were worried about the convoy in Ottawa and its adherents here in Victoria. Already those worries have been displaced by concerns for the people in Ukraine who find themselves under siege by Russian forces. Many of us have pledged support for humanitarian aid. Many of us, myself included, do not understand the complex history of wars and military aggression in the area.
Last Sunday afternoon there was a rally in support of Ukraine I attended. I posted a photo online including the waving of Ukrainian flags, blue and yellow we now see everywhere. Afterwards someone with Ukrainian roots in Victoria who is critical of nationalism asked whether I knew what I was supporting. Whether I knew that there are fascist divisions within the Ukrainian military that Canada has supported and is now providing arms to the Ukrainian military. I admitted I was not aware of this history and it’s easy to get swept up into something the scope of which is beyond my understanding. I thanked this person for reaching out. Someone who is upset to see the continued militarism and violence in the Ukraine.
I reflect upon the basics to which Jesus is calling us this Ash Wednesday. To reflect upon our finitude, upon human limitations, while extending love to our neighbours. To reflect upon how we support the people in Ukraine, as well as Russians who don’t want war but have no choice, and how we stand together for the life of all creation. Ultimately only the people on the ground know what it’s like to be caught in a conflict like this. Our task is to listen and to be critical of messages we’re receiving from people who stand something to gain from war. People who sell arms and munitions. People who benefit from chaos and disruption.
I also give thanks for the outpouring of support we’ve seen for other human beings. The desire that others have enough food, water, and shelter for the coming days. The desire for mutual human flourishing is encouraging. That is a marked difference I’ve noted between the kind of rallies we are seeing now. While we remain critical of nationalism, seeking ways to de-escalate conflict, we notice a shift towards caring for others and this is heartening.
And yet none of is Jesus. None of us is the Messiah who can swoop in and make it all go away. Instead we do our part and we seek grace and solace. For one another and for ourselves. That’s why this Ash Wednesday:
God also gives us permission to say we don’t know all the answers.
God gives us permission to say we don’t have it all together.
God gives us permission to say we’re frustrated our bodies don’t always cooperate with us.
God gives us permission to say we find it all too much. That we’re low on reserves.
God gives us permission to say we need to sit on the bench and take a time out.
Too often the ashes on Ash Wednesday are made about judgment, about God judging us. But the truth is that we judge ourselves. We hold ourselves up to impossible standards. We demand productivity of one another in ways that are not always healthy. If there is anyone doing the judging, it is us. God doesn’t need to do a single thing for there to be judgment in the world in that negative sense.
God doesn’t come to judge and scold, but to set us free.
Set free from the idea that we are invincible.
Set free from impossible standards.
Set free that single-handedly we can correct centuries of conflict
Set free from the idea if we work hard enough, we can overcome human limitations.
Instead God invites us to let go, to accept the gift of grace, and embrace the loved ones near to us. To mourn loved ones who have died. It’s okay to be sad people close to us are either sick or dying. It’s okay to be sad if things aren’t going the way we’d like them to go.
In our reading from 2 Corinthians Paul finds the promise of life in the midst of life’s calamities. Seeing that God’s grace is at work in the oddest of places. No matter the number of sleepness nights, no matter the calamities, no matter our reputation, no matter whether we’re treated as impostors, Jesus is with us. As Paul says, “as sorrowful, yet rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” These are words of encouragement that we are enough. That God loves us just as we are.
In closing I share with you this prayer Rev. Tuhina Rasche shares on Ash Wednesday:
“Instead of being brave being strong being resilient being resourceful being courageous… what if I just wanted to be as God created me to be?