Ash Wednesday Sermon
Cathédrale Ste. Trinité, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
March 9, 2011
We stand at the beginning of Lent, reminded that we are dust and that we shall return to dust at the last. The people of Haiti know something about dust and ashes, particularly as a sign of destruction and of mourning. People here are reminded of grief wherever we turn, grief that still sits heavy alongside the piles of ashes and dust. When those piles really begin to disappear, hope emerges in their place.
The ashes and dust of this day at the beginning Lent are a reminder that even though we may be destroyed, God continues to do a new thing. Even the worst destruction that enters our lives cannot destroy what God is doing. We start this journey of Lent by looking toward Jerusalem, where Jesus was killed by the political destroyers of his day. Out of the destruction of his body, out of the dashed hopes of his disciples, out of the tomb where they laid his corpse, God continues to bring new life.
How are the people of this land and this diocese today? Some are still standing around outside the tomb, some are in the closed-up room with Thomas asking for proof that this is really Jesus. Some are eating breakfast on the beach with the risen Jesus.
Last year, we encouraged you to understand that Lent had already come, and that the task was to look for resurrection everywhere. This year, life is still hard and uncertain, yet there are solid signs of resurrection in the work Bishop Duracin and the leadership of this diocese have begun. This cathedral will stand again. Its art will once again feed the hearts and spirits of this nation – and of the world. The many healing and teaching ministries of this diocese are beginning to re-emerge with new strength. The body of Christ stands together in solidarity to do the work of re-building.
As we walk the journey of Lent this year, the old disciplines are going to help: prayer, fasting, giving alms, examination of conscience, and meditating on God’s living word. The gospel encourages us to turn outward – to not be so focused on our own experience, whether it’s the holiness of our personal prayer or the outward signs of ashes and fasting. We are not the only people on this planet.
This year, remember the people of Christchurch, New Zealand, who have also suffered a devastating series of earthquakes. That diocese was among the first to respond when the earthquake happened here – their bishop challenged her people to raise $100,000 for relief work here. Their cathedral now lies in ruins as well. As you pray for them, what would the people of Haiti tell the people of Christchurch about the healing work of the last year? What you’ve learned in this journey? God is certainly building a new bridge between us all, reminding us that we are part of the same body of Christ, living on a fragile earth that moves and creaks and groans, and a world that is connected heart to heart, when we treasure each other. This world is being continually reshaped as mountains are created – or leveled. The works we construct on this earth are but dust, and at the same time we seek shelter in the palm of God’s hand, knowing that we are beloved.
What do we treasure? Where do our hearts focus? These buildings are precious, yet this body is even more precious, as it seeks healing for itself and the world around it. May we be rebuilders and repairers of this broken body.
The ashes we will receive in a few minutes are a sign of that brokenness. Yet they are also precious reminder that we are all created out of the same dust – we share a common humanity with all other people who have ever walked this earth, including Jesus of Nazareth. We have a common part with all of creation. We are made of the same dust and ashes as the stars in the heavens. And all of it is precious in God’s sight. May the ashes on our forehead remind us of the cross made there, in the same place, when we were baptized. Those crosses are a sign that we, too, are meant to be light to the world. May those crosses shine with hope for rebuilding and repair, hope for love to heal this world.