Read: 2 Corinthians 6:3-10
We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
It may seem odd to begin an Ash Wednesday meditation with a celebration of God’s abundance in creation. After all, part of the liturgy for this day takes us back, literally, to the ground: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Today, we are asked to “remember” that everything about the material world is originally ordered to allow humans to fulfill their vocation of loving and praising God. However, we are also reminded on this day that human sin disrupts and distorts this world of abundance. The peaceable harmony of creation is ruptured as humans become alienated from God, others, and the rest of creation. Scarcity, struggle, and violence ensue.
In this traditional epistle for Ash Wednesday, Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians can also serve to help us remember that, while the gift of God’s abundance in creation is peaceable and lacking in nothing, the realization of that abundance finds its fullest expression in and through communities of persons who live lives of integrity and mutual love. Thus, even those who have nothing nonetheless possess everything. For when everything is in right relationship with itself, God, and the rest of the world, it is then that this state of Sabbath rest reflects God’s deepest desires for us.
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, p. 264)
Stephen Fowl is a professor of theology at Loyola University in Maryland.