Look at the person nearest to you—at their brow in particular.
No smudge, no black spot, no dust and ash cross on their forehead?
Well, the wild thing is that it is already there
—that ash is already there on their forehead and upon your own as well.
You are dust and to dust shall you return—that’s an obvious truth, we are mortal, we’re confined to a particular time and place. Our bodies break down and things fall apart,
to quote both William Falkner and the Buddha,
“All things impermanent.”
That’s already the case.
“All things impermanent,” is a reality whether I put ash upon your brow or not…
but when I do, this hidden truth is made plain,
it becomes obvious,
it comes to the forefront of our lives. What was hidden is revealed. The invisible is made visible.
And, very briefly, because the ritual actions we do this night speak more powerfully than any words I can come up with,
I would like to talk to you about the power of hidden, invisible, things.
In today’s Gospel we read of hidden things—Hidden Alms, Hidden Prayers, and Hidden Fasting.
These are of course things we, as people of faith, do.
Things we as children of our Heavenly Father do, not to be seen, not to be honored,
but because of the wondrous grace we’ve received and continue to receive from God.
These hidden things—
-giving of our possessions to those in need,
-praying to God that the reality of Heaven might break into our lives and into the lives of both friends and enemies,
-and consuming less, so that others might have enough
are all practices of the Christian Church
—I could, I believe, name times when each one of you have done things that fit within these broad categories,
Alms, Prayer, and Fasting.
And it is during the season of Lent—these 40 days leading up to Easter—when we make obvious these actions, when we afford ourselves extra opportunities for these practices.
These things we as God’s people do in secret, are made more obvious in Lent.
Like that hidden dust that is already on your brow, yet will be revealed shortly
—the hidden piety of the people of God is revealed in Lent.
Jesus speaks of hidden deeds, and Paul speaks of a hidden triumph, a hidden kingdom, and a hidden citizenship.
Not to get too deep into the geopolitical mud, but look at what the country of Russia is claiming and doing. They’re claiming a right to defend Ethnic Russians, no matter what country they live in, and they’re giving Russian passports to Ethnic Russians who are citizens of Ukraine.
It is as if these Ukrainians are secret Russians, they have a secondary, invisible, citizenship.
And that is what Paul is pointing to today, an invisible citizenship that motivates the Christian life.
Through Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we can say:
-now is the acceptable time,
-now is the day of salvation. We know his death, and our own, is ultimately a triumph, taking the dark no of mortality/ and redeeming it with the overshadowing mercy of God’s Yes for us.
We’ve found a second citizenship—an invisible one, the Kingdom of Heaven.
And we are ambassadors for that Kingdom, for that Good News.
We’re freed to live out that calling, which may bring about hardships of all sorts…
yet we struggle to respond with goodness in all things,
finding ourselves held taut by that tension
“treated as imposters, yet in truth, true/ dying, and yet see! we are alive.”
Yes, look to your sister or your brother,
at their forehead,
their mortality is there,
“All things impermanent.”
--but so too is Alms, Prayer, and Fasting
—so too is Christ’s triumph and their citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Amen.