2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ's behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! 21 Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.
6 In our work together with God, then, we beg you who have received God's grace not to let it be wasted. 2 Hear what God says:
“When the time came for me to show you favor, I heard you; when the day arrived for me to save you, I helped you.”
Listen! This is the hour to receive God's favor; today is the day to be saved!
3 We do not want anyone to find fault with our work, so we try not to put obstacles in anyone's way. 4 Instead, in everything we do we show that we are God's servants by patiently enduring troubles, hardships, and difficulties. 5 We have been beaten, jailed, and mobbed; we have been overworked and have gone without sleep or food. 6 By our purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness we have shown ourselves to be God's servants—by the Holy Spirit, by our true love, 7 by our message of truth, and by the power of God. We have righteousness as our weapon, both to attack and to defend ourselves. 8 We are honored and disgraced; we are insulted and praised. We are treated as liars, yet we speak the truth; 9 as unknown, yet we are known by all; as though we were dead, but, as you see, we live on. Although punished, we are not killed; 10 although saddened, we are always glad; we seem poor, but we make many people rich; we seem to have nothing, yet we really possess everything.
Ashes on your forehead is one of the most powerful markings you may every wear. Going out in public with a black cross on your head opens up opportunities for talking to people, even strangers, about your faith.
You remember the nursery rhyme: “Ring around the rosie, pocketful of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.” The idea of togetherness in falling resonates with the sign of mortality we receive on Ash Wednesday.
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” are the words said when the ashes are placed on the forehead. Remember that we are all in this together – the falling down and the being pulled up by the grace of God. Life isn’t easy but living it together lightens everyone’s burdens. Living it with God changes the picture entirely.
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down…and rise together by God’s hand.
We bump into reminders of our mortality every day and they rub off on us. We are marked by mortality, though we may prefer not to look. The struggles we face are different, but they are very real. No one is passed over by the hander out of difficulties. Ashes remind us that we are not alone in our struggle. Ashes remind us that we are all mere mortals.
We are mere mortals. We are those with broken hearts. Who ask “why?” Those who are outcasts or cast offs. Ones no one knows. Those who can’t go back and start over or who have a broken past. People whose life has been turned upside down. To accept mortality is to accept humanity.
We are also mere mortals who hold hands and face what the world dishes out together. We wear the ashes of mortality on our foreheads yet trust the promise of eternal life.
Just when we think we have to wait for heaven to be free of the ashes, we hear these words: “Now is the acceptable time; see now is the day of salvation!” We don’t have to wait, so why aren’t we free of all the ashes represent?
A rearrangement of our assumptions about time might be in order. Nathan Mitchell argues about the concept of time in the liturgy of the church: “Time is defined by meaning instead of its duration.” Callista Isabelle writes that Paul, here in 2 Corinthians, suggests that the time for reconciliation to God is today and every day we wake up to stumble through life. Through this reconciliation God has promised salvation.
Knowing that God’s promise is certain and that forgiveness is already ours, we need to figure out we are to live in the everyday. In the reality of this rearranged time. For Paul, it is by living as those who demonstrate the righteousness of God to ourselves and to others.
Our lives will be marked by struggles but also by running the race towards purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness. Every time we fall short, the ashes remind us that we are both mortal and are lifted by the promise of God’s grace and forgiveness.
Seeing the ashes on one another’s foreheads reminds us that we are in this together. We hold hands, fall down, and get back up together. The bond we share in Christ is unbreakable. There is nothing we can’t do when we do it together.
The last lyrics of the song, “Together” sung by Tori Kelly, Kirk Franklin, and For King and Country sum this up well:
Together we are dangerous Together with our differences Together we are bolder, braver, stronger