photo from: JOEL AUERBACH/AP
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday for many Christian communities. It is the day we remember our mortality and repent of our sins before beginning a season of discipleship, Lent. During our service, I shared a devotion about when I was in high school and how strange it was to see teenagers get ashes in the middle of the day.
In general, mortality is the last thing on teenagers’ minds is mortality; at least we think it should be. Most teens do think they are 10 feet tall and invincible; it is a gift of the age. What I didn’t know while I was preaching, was that 17 students and teachers lay dead in Florida. They were victims of the 18th school shooting on record this year. It is February.
As I read the news last night, an image captured by an AP photographer stood out. Two women grieving, one marked with the Ash Wednesday cross. Ashes are meant to remind us that all things die. From dust we come, and to dust we return. The cross reminds us that mortality doesn’t mean futility. Christ has died and been raised, so repentance and life are possible for us.
The hope in this image is so important for all the families and friends grieving today. But for the rest of us, the ash should not be overlooked. We are currently averaging 1 school shooting every 60 hours. Something is broken in our country, and we need to do some repenting.
Repenting is not “thoughts and prayers”. All who mourn of course have our prayers. But repentance is grief that leads to change.
Sometime today the talking head chorus will start singing the old refrain “we shouldn’t politicize a tragedy”. A gunman murdered a group of people in a public space; like it or not, it was a political act. It should not be used to forward partisan agendas, but to patently reject the political nature of what has happened, what keeps happening, is to refuse any hope of redemption.
Because we are afraid of the optics (or the negative opinion polls) we choose argument over action. We debate the cause: there are too many guns, not enough mental health resources, the culture glorifies violence. We are paralyzed by a never ending game of laying blame. Are we really comfortable with our children continuing to die because we cannot agree on the proper gradation of our sins?
The truth is everyone is a little bit right, and it’s time to stop arguing and do some things. Firearms are too readily available; we need common sense restrictions. The mental health system in this country is woefully inadequate; we need better access and more affordable care. Our culture does glorify violence; we need to teach our children that service, and sacrifice, and compromise are better than fighting at all costs.
Every Ash Wednesday, the prayer of confession in our church is Psalm 51, but a modified version. I find myself sitting this morning with the verses we skip:
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God[d] is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Today I will pray for those affected; I will also call my Senators and my Congressman. I will tell them it is time for grief to lead to change. I will ask them to take up the cause of repentance.