Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? (Isaiah 58:6)
Every year for Ash Wednesday, this passage from Isaiah arrives in our lectionary texts. It is a word from the prophet to the people about how they have sinned and fallen short. It is also the inspiration from which Jesus drew the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 – for I was hungry and you gave me something to drink…
What a remarkable thing it is to be reminded on a day to humble ourselves that we are not called to fast in sackcloth in ashes. Nor are we to force ourselves into starvation. Or even try to look contrite.
What we are called to do, as followers of the Living God, is to fast by following God’s purposes in the world. We are to work for the empowerment of those who have been trampled. We are to give a voice to those long silenced. We are to ensure flourishing life for all of God’s children in this world. We are to break down the walls that divide and build up the broken hearts. We are to speak justice to hatred and offer mercy where others give only punishment. We are to follow God’s example.
We should also remember, that though we will one day return to the dust, our God has done remarkable things with dust, too. It is from the dust that God has formed us and breathed life into us. As the popular worship song suggests, “You make beautiful things out of dust.” And under all the ash that hides our light, you are surely a beautiful creation, made in the very image of God.
As we are called to repent, we are compelled to do more than give God lip-service. We are to act – for not to act when someone is getting hurt, that is worse than causing the suffering ourselves. We are to speak truth, light, love, and peace to a world shadowed in fear. We are to do these things every day of our lives.
Today is merely the opportunity to begin anew and strive to do better. May God grant us strength and courage to truly follow Christ this day.