Ash Wednesday Homily
Paul declares in our last scripture, “For our sake, God made him—Christ—to be sin, who knew no sin.” Really step back and consider what he is saying. The Lord made Jesus—whom Paul elsewhere calls “the very image of God,” the truest revelation of who God is—this divinity in the flesh... is made sin. If you recall, on Sunday we learned that the most common Biblical word for “sin” literally translates in both Hebrew and Greek as “to miss the mark.” Taking on that more wooden translation, Paul might say “the one who never misses... was made to take on our waywardness.” The idea is not that God blurs the lines between evil and good. No, right and wrong still have their places and differences even after Jesus. Rather, Paul is saying Jesus has become a sin-bearing sacrifice... or perhaps more fully has become the recipient of our sins' consequences. The never-missing one has taken up our missed marks. The holy one was thrown our unholiness around his shoulders like a cloak. The loving God of peace has taken on the debts incurred by our hate-filled and warring hearts. Goodness incarnate takes up the debts of our wickedness.
But Paul continues... “so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.” That is to say, Christ takes up our sin as a cloak around himself... so that we might instead his righteousness as a robe. Jesus carries our debts of evil so that we might receive the riches won by his holiness. As St. Irenaeus remarked a hundred or so years after Christ's resurrection, “He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that [we]... might become [the children] of God.” In this way, we may speak of one holy and universal Church... and yet recognize our need to confess sins together every week in worship, if not every day in private. For the “holy” we bear belongs not to us but is a borrowed garment Christ gave in exchange for the debts of human sin.
That is the story of Easter that Lent builds towards every year: Christ donating his holiness to us that we might be saved... and Christ taking up the debts of our sins, that the real costs of evil might still be paid, even as we are freed from it. Lent is a season of repentance, of fasting, of remembering our mortality... as a reminder of the gift we receive and the cost it took God. It's a time to remember what Isaiah declared, that we do not fast to grow our pride or boast in our own holiness... but rather to humble ourselves, rededicate ourselves to God's mission of service and love, that true faithfulness is not displayed in sermons or rituals but in a life that is changed by God. Fasting reminds us who truly “gives us this day our daily bread.” Lent is a time where we come to the Lord as beggars, echoing David in tonight's Psalm as we likewise ask, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” We admit that the holiness we wear is a borrowed cloth, and that wearing righteousness requires God to exchange our garments of sin with his own robes of glory. And so we cannot boast in our goodness but instead with humility seek to live up to the gift of Christ’s righteousness. In the discipline of Lent, much as Paul says at the end of our main scripture, we live “as having nothing,” but we do so as a reminder that through Jesus “we possess everything.” The season of Lent embraces hardships, self-discipline, and fasting so that—just as Paul endured persecution, sleepless nights, hunger, hardships and more—we too might share in the purity, patience, genuine love, holiness, and more that God gave him through endurance. Tonight we hear those words echoed across the Bible, that we were formed from the dust in creation... and to dust we shall one day return. We remember our mortality in Lent... that we might cherish all the more the promise of immortality Easter brings. We remember our dusty frame... to marvel all the more that God became one of us in Jesus of Nazareth. We mark ourselves with ashes as a sign of repentance, that our faith may be one not only of Sunday mornings but of a heart, mind, and soul transformed into the image of God in which we were all created. “For our sake, God made him be sin who knew no sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And so we gather in Lenten worship, repentance, and hope again. Amen.