Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down? Reflections on Isaiah 58:1-12 for Ash Wednesday

Now, in the light of that problem, listen to Isaiah as he continues: "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, to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not hide yourself from your own brothers and sisters?" (Is. 58:6-7). And I would add: "Is it not to include your LGBTQ brothers and sisters in all of your Christian activities, offering them full participation in ordination and service?"

"Then," says Isaiah, "your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindication shall go before you; the glory of YHWH shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and YHWH will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, 'Present!'" (Is. 58:8-9).

This is finally what Ash Wednesday can mean for me and for you: a confession that we too often go through the motions of piety and ritual, but too rarely act on what it all is supposed to mean. I frankly feel ashamed of myself that I have had now fifty or so crosses painted on my forehead on this day and have done so little in response to what it can mean for me in my relationships with so many of my fellow human beings.

Let's reframe that old nursery rhyme that we all learned as kids. "Ashes, ashes, we all fall down," we sang, not aware that the ditty was birthed in the time of the Great Plague where so many fell down to death. This Ash Wednesday, why not sing, "Ashes, ashes, we all stand up" for those who need us, the poor, the oppressed, and especially for our friends in the LGBTQ community. And a happy and a challenging Ash Wednesday to you!

12/2/2022 9:10:30 PM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.