Sackcloth and Ashes

2-13By Carolyn Brock of Redmond, Oregon, USA

O my poor people, put on sackcloth, and roll in ashes; make mourning as for an only child….”

—Jeremiah 6:26

Ashes for most of us are signs of what is lost, destroyed, consumed—the remnants of what used to be. At times we have lost what is sacred and irreplaceable. We regret what we have done to one another.

Consider the ashes of Jews, the family of Jesus, spewing into the air over Auschwitz. Think of the bodies of those named heretics and infidels, burned at the stake by the church of Christ. Reflect on the villages of Viet Nam, Bosnia, and other places where scorched-earth polices have been employed.

In olden days the Hebrew people covered themselves with sackcloth and ashes in times of mourning and repentance. Some Christians still have their foreheads marked with ashes as a sign of remembrance and repentance on Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent.

In her book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott talks about the cremated ashes of her friend, Pammy, sticking to her fingers, hair, and clothing as she and Pammy’s family tried to spread them on the waters of San Francisco Bay. But the ashes would not cooperate and romantically drift away. Lamott found that ashes “cling and haunt” and they reminded her Pammy would always be an intimate part of her.

Maybe the ashes of past human pain, injustice, genocide, holocaust, and suffering need to cling to us like glue. Not so we can be weighed down by sorrow and guilt, but so we can remind ourselves that we continuously need healing, repentance, transformation, reconciliation. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, grieved over human suffering and oppressive systems. His compassion also moved him to healing words and reconciling actions. Should it not be also with us?

Prayer for Peace
God of the repentant, heal us. Reconcile us to one another. May peace be all that exists between us. May Christ’s peace be what we share.

Spiritual Practice: An Offering of Ashes
God promises healing for our wounds and losses. Hold (or imagine holding) a pinch of ashes in your hands as you become aware of situations in your life, family, congregation, and world that are broken, lost, or falling apart. Be honest with God about the fear, sadness, or burden you feel. Offer the ashes to God in prayer. Ask God to create beauty, peace, and healing in the places and people who now experience the ashes of despair and grief.

Peace Covenant
God, I will not brush away the ashes of compassion; I will let them cling until I take healing action.

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  1. Once Upon A Time: The Woman Who Would Not Forget. | Daily Story For Children

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