On a dirt floor inside a scrap metal hut a girl of just 14 lies exposed and open as her clammy, convulsing customer tears himself off of her. A tear of desperation forces its way through her duct; but she will not let it out. So she grits her teeth and kills the last sense of dignity that attempts to touch her soul. She and her brothers will eat tonight and that’s all that matters. And the world looks on in silence.
A child of just 2 months screams in hunger as his ribs rack his very skin stretching it to the point of tearing. That skin longs for nourishment; but no nourishment will come from the arid breast of his malnourished mother. The heart that protrudes from his chest beating for a chance to live will soon beat its last. And the world looks on in silence.
Somewhere in the Western world an old woman walks the lonely streets at dusk. For five years now no one has as much as recognized her existence. She will soon give the world what it wants as she fades into the shadows of the streets to disappear forever under the drip of an I.V. hastening the last responsibility that has been yanked from the hands of a dying God. And the world looks on in silence.
Yet, perhaps not so. For what begins as just a soft melody, a faint sound in the distance, gains force. What once was barely perceptible now becomes audible. It is the sound of a trumpet. A trumpet being blown from the tops of spires, belfries, domes and towers throughout the world. From St. Peters to St. Patrick’s to St. Kwinten’s to Notre Dame the watchmen sound the horn as the Christian community rises together from its slumber to say “no more.” “No more” to death, “no more” to hunger, “no more” to lost innocence, “no more” to violence, “no more” to objectification, “no more” to sin. The simultaneous shout from the Church united this evening, this Ash Wednesday, from around the world disrupts the march of evil that has been prowling for too long.
So we rise and proclaim a fast. We fast from the banality of pop culture and the senseless streams of Netflix binges. We fast from the protruding poses of Internet pornography and our wasteful habits of consuming without care. We fast from our hasty judgments and our petty preferences and our murderous gossip. And when we hunger with lust inside for those things which are no longer ours we remember in solidarity the hunger which took the life of the child in his mother’s arms, we remember the hunger for justice of the girl who simply wanted to be just a girl, we remember the hunger for hope and recognition of the elderly woman who no longer walks the streets, and we remember that somehow we too are implicated in all of this.
Yes, we too are implicated. Adam’s blood runs through our blood. Adam’s blood which implicates us in the evil that continues to exist in this world. The very blood that spilled out from Cain’s murderous lust towards Abel that has polluted the world ever since. The blood that invites the screams and howls of the world longing for something more, for redemption, for freedom from slavery and sin. The blood that makes us say with St. Paul that “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.”
But the blood of Adam is not the only blood in our veins. It is not the only blood that has been spilled out on this earth. For there is another’s blood that drowns out the drip of the I.V. in the shadows of the night. It’s the blood of our savior who gave his blood for us, that lamb slain upon the altar as the world looked on. It’s the blood that we drink this evening. And this blood flows in our veins too, flowing like a stream from that New Jerusalem. For we have drank from the one chalice. The chalice of blessing, the cup of everlasting life. Therefore our hearts pump not just malice and hatred, they pump love and mercy and sacrifice and peace. And so little by little this confused concoction in our veins is purified to become a hypostatically constituted reality. It is purified to become like the lamb’s, the lamb who was slain. So our veins pump this blood that has the potential to renew the face of the earth, to clean the pillar of profanity and the darkness of death and decay.
And so we rend our hearts. We rend our hearts to let this blood flow from our chests onto the earth. That in the rending of our hearts we might give to the world the priceless alms of eternal life. We rend our hearts to let out the blood of blessing and let in the feelings of pain that have so long dominated this Earth that we might hear the cry of the poor and respond.
And so we pray. We pray that this Lent might be different. We pray that we might be changed. We pray that we might rise from the rubble of our decadence and be restored to something new. We pray that we might be set free from our solipsistic selfishness and no longer walk in a wasteland of sin but stand together as brothers and sisters, ambassadors of Christ, in a shared sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
And we receive the mark on our foreheads. Not the mark of Cain or the mark of the beast, but the mark of Christ. The cross of ashes on our foreheads is sign of contradiction to the world. A sign to a deconstructed world that has wallowed long enough in its own fruitless flight from reality that now is the time for redemption—now is the time for a re-constructed Adam and Eve. The mark on our foreheads says to the world that this night things will be different. This night things will change. This night I will try my best to live the calling that was given to me in my baptism; and should I fail I will rise again from the ashes absolved to live yet another day for him.
As the trumpets quiet down and the cries cease to exist and the dripping evanesces there is no utterance on the lips of the world – and no utterance on our lips either, of “where is your God?” But there is just the sound of bending knees, knees bending from North to South and East to West, from Heaven to Earth to under the Earth, and a resounding proclamation that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”