Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return are words we would normally hear after the sermon on Ash Wednesday as you receive a sign of the cross from ashes on your forehead. But because of Covid restrictions and lockdown we will not be able to offer this this year. They are both a reminder of your baptism and your humanity.
In Baptism we are reminded that we are buried with Christ in order that we may rise with Christ. The ashes are a reminder of our humanity – and our mortality which we hear when we attend the funeral of a loved one: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust – dust we are and to dust we shall return. A mortality, that because of our humanity we must all face.
I’m not sure how soon you usually leave the ashes on your forehead – maybe as you leave the service or maybe you allow them to remain until they wear off. The ashes are easily washed off but our humanity and our mortality remain. So on Ash Wednesday we are reminded that despite all the advances of technology and health that our mortality remains with us. We might live longer but we do not live forever in this lifetime.
And so St Paul reminds and in a sense warns us to not become complacent as we often do about things – I’ve got plenty of time to worry about that. But St Paul’s warning is about our salvation – our eternal life.
He says: now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. Not tomorrow or the next day – today – now is the day when we should be considering our eternity. And so Paul urges us to be reconciled to God – NOW!
We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
This time of Covid has challenged us to think of our mortality also. As we look at the rates of infection and the death rate we become very anxious about our health and wellbeing. At the announcement of a one person outbreak we jump into action. The masks come back on – Western Australia went into a complete lockdown for a week – and even though it was in one locality it impacted the entire state. And now, here in Victoria, we face the same situation – back into our 3rd lockdown.
Maybe Covid has made you reflect on your vulnerability. If it has, remember that despite what the world situation can do to your mortality it cannot affect your immortality because Jesus Christ has assured that. As he who had no sin became your sin so that you could become the righteous of God. And along with that righteousness all that comes with it as heirs of the Kingdom of Godlk and all that includes – especially eternal life. We call that the Great Exchange. Jesus took on our mortality so that we could share in his immortality.
That’s what St Paul said in Romans 6 through our Baptism: Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
That doesn’t mean we live irresponsible lives but it means that in our vulnerability we aren’t controlled by fear. That’s what Jesus said when he said: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. And because of Jesus’ death for us and the great exchange we don’t fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell – because he took our place. He who had no sin became our sin so that we could become his righteousness.
St Paul suffered greatly for his faith in Jesus Christ: in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger; But at no stage did he ever fear death even though he faced death every single day because of his faith. Because he knew that to live is Christ but to die is gain.
We cannot avoid the reality of death but that doesn’t mean we allow it to rule our lives. God is the one who rules our lives and again Jesus says: “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows
So let us value each and every day that God gifts us with because each day is a blessing and another day in which we can praise our Heavenly Father. And whether our time is short or whether our time is long – let us store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.