Ash Wednesday Sermon to Pohick Church March 2, 2022
The Rev. Dr. Lynn Ronaldi
In the 1950s, during an era of escalating fear over the threat of nuclear war, a fellow priest once challenged theologian and scientist Pierre de Chardin with this question:
“You believe that good will ultimately triumph over evil. Well, what if we blow up the world with an atomic bomb? What happens to goodness then?”
De Chardin answered: “If we blow up the world with an atomic bomb, that would be a 2-million-year setback. But goodness will triumph over evil, not because I wish it, but because God has promised it. And in the Resurrection, God showed that God has the power to deliver on that promise. If it weren’t for the Resurrection, we have no guarantees. Lies, injustice and violence may well triumph in the end. That is certainly how it looked the day Jesus died.”
Today, these words resonate eerily in our world: We see innocent people sift through ashes for the remains of loved ones; we see Ukrainian subway tunnels filled with terrified citizens; we hear that a crazed despot has placed nuclear weapons on high alert.
Today, it appears that evil may well triumph.
Perhaps we would do well to recall de Chardin’s words: “That is certainly how it looked the day Jesus died.”
Jesus never promised there would be no suffering. Jesus continually warned of wars and rumors of wars. He wept over a Jerusalem that would not listen. Yet Jesus continued to believe in goodness, and he taught it.
If all the world followed Jesus’ teaching, the world would be transformed. Think about it: If we all lived into the Sermon on the Mount, our world would be at peace.
Of course, we do not live up to Jesus’s standards. Vladimir Putin is an extreme example of how human self-centeredness resists moral teaching.
Even so, we do not lose heart. For it was not Jesus’ teaching that defeated the powers of evil and revealed the power of God. It was Jesus’ death that proclaimed the victory of goodness and love. It was a grain of wheat falling into the ground that bore fruit.
Jesus was victorious over the powers and principalities in a way that seems like the opposite of power. He did not overpower anyone with violence, fear, or superiority. He embodied God’s power through mercy, compassion, and humility. He clung to love, even as hate crucified him.
Yes, those worldly powers put Jesus to death, but Jesus trusted that God would have the last word. And he did: God raised Jesus from the dead. The Resurrection proves that love will always have the final word. 1
We are witnessing this phenomenon in our world. Suffering, death, and fear have been a part of our global consciousness for the last two years. Now, on top of it all, we are witnessing the principalities and powers ruthlessly attacking the Ukraine and threatening the world.
Daily, we weep at scenes of Ukrainians digging through the rubble of their former lives. Yet the world cannot help but be transfixed and transformed by the courage and love of those people, for their country and for one another.
Love is winning. Though it does not look like it at the moment, courage and love are defeating the evil powers. Yes, Russian troops do continue to converge on the beleaguered country. Innocent people are hurt, exiled, and killed. Yet, miraculous images abound, proving that courage and love can indeed have the last word:
- A priest offers communion in a subway tunnel, a poignant picture of true community.
- Citizens literally lay down their lives in front of Russian tanks, for the sake of others.
- A woman sings the Ukrainian national anthem, even as she sweeps broken glass and ashes from her bombed-out home.
It is this last image that I ask you to contemplate on this Ash Wednesday: the rubble and the ashes. We are all made of dust, and to dust we shall return. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. We are all going to die.
Yet this is the lesson: In spite of how bad it all looks, even as we sift through the ashes of our former lives, we can trust that God’s love will have the last word.
Today, ashes made in the sign of the cross on our foreheads remind us that we are called to reconcile and restore communion and community. We are called to lay down our lives for the sake of others. And we are called to sing with courage, even as we sift ashes from ruins.
As we bear our cross of ashes upon our foreheads, let us continue to fast and pray during these 40 days of Lent, in solidarity with our courageous brothers and sisters in the Ukraine. Let us pray for troops sent to protect them. Let us also pray for our enemies’ conversion from greed to generosity, from hate to love, from evil to good. Pray for their conversion – and for ours.
Certainly, there is no guarantee that the powers and principalities will not crucify everything that is loving and peaceful. Jesus’ passion and death and the history of our world testify to the fact that the powers of self-centeredness and violence crucified him.
As Christians we are called to remember this: While evil may win for a while, goodness triumphs in the end.
Even when the evidence all around us is to the contrary, the Resurrection is our guarantee. We know that God raises love from the grave. One day, the powers and principalities will have to submit to that more perfect, divine power. Goodness will triumph over evil. And there will be peace. Amen.
1 Fr. Ron Rolheiser 2010