We begin at the end of this story. God has already saved you. God has already saved all of us. Salvation is ours. There is no question about that. Not that there are no questions, of course. Human experience is full of questions. Some of the simplest and most important questions are those that we encounter daily:
Is this thing I am doing the right thing? It must be, because I am doing it … yes?
Well, it depends, doesn’t it? If the thing you are doing is the right thing, then it is the thing closest to loving your neighbor as yourself. And, that of course, begins with the question, do you love your self? And, then, do you love your neighbor as your self?
You might be interested to know that there is a difference, in writing, between yourself (one word), and your self (two words). The first one is misused much these days. It should be the object of a verb or preposition–“help yourself to the candy.” The other version, two words, occurs in philosophy and theology, where it takes account of the difference in human experience between soul and self.
Soul, is what is in your being—most often we say “heart” but interestingly in Pauline days it was thought to be in your liver.
Self, is what is in your mind, in your brain.
How is it that you can have a soul and a self and not know whether you love them both? Well, that just is the human condition. We have brains. We have souls. We have consciences, and we have outer personalities. Those are the parts of us that do the most good, or the most harm. It is easy enough to control what goes on in that conversation in your head. But it is quite another matter ,to control what your “self” does in social interaction day by day.
Ash Wednesday is the day Christians set aside for atonement. That also is an interesting word. Theologians say “atonement” and define it as becoming one with God. But we can see in the roots of the word that there is the phrase “at-one-ment.” Now, if we are already children of God, and if we already have salvation, what then is the use of atonement? Well, obviously, it is for getting back in line, or getting back to being at “one” with God.
You know, every year at Christmas we move the furniture around and change our habits. And every year at Lent, we move it all back. Change, gets us back in line. It reminds us to remind our selves, to think about how we are loving our neighbors as our selves. Which is the textbook definition of atonement.
So today we recite the ancient scripture, “blow the trumpet in Zion …, tremble before God …,” because that day of darkness is already here. It always is already here. That day of darkness is every moment in your soul. Because in every moment in your soul you know when you have been at one with God and when you have been apart from God.
God knows us, because God made us. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, it was from dust that God fashioned people and it is to dust that we return.
Be reconciled to God. Remember that the true treasure of God’s kingdom, is being at one with God and every one. And that means loving your neighbor as yourself. If you can do that, then that day of darkness will be changed into the warmth of God’s compassion and mercy illuminated by the light of Christ.
One more thing … Jesus says not to practice your piety in public …. He means, engage God in your own heart and cleanse your soul by loving your neighbor as yourself.