Ashes to Action
You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance … and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. – Isaiah 58:5-6 excerpts (NLT)
Many Americans take great pride in our national symbols. We pledge allegiance to our flag. We stand for the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner. We salute our military personnel and we honor our military veterans. Our Fourth of July Independence Celebration is always one of the most festive and spectacular events of the year.
Christians are pretty big on symbols as well. We hold the Cross of Calvary in sacred esteem. We worship in churches and cathedrals that invite our eyes to look vertically toward the celestial majesty of God. And today, many Christians will mark the holy day with ashes on their foreheads, remembering that we are dust, in need of redemption.
Symbols are wondrously inspiring, but symbols are essentially empty, if they don’t point to an actual substance of action.
Standing for our National Anthem is symbolically appropriate, but those who take a knee during our National Anthem point to the contradiction of “Land of the free”’ and police brutality in black communities.
Honoring our military is wonderful, but those who declare war against voter suppression are fighting for the very freedoms for which our military men and women risk their lives.
Holding the Cross in high reverence is glorious, but it means nothing if we are unwilling to make individual sacrifices for the common good.
And today, our ashes remain nothing more than ashes, without a commitment to repent for our sins of selfishness and live anew in the Spirit of God’s All-Encompassing Love.
Ashes to Action. Dust to Determination. Amen.
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.