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Yesterday's Palms are Today's Ashes

Everything about today’s gospel (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21) suggests we too easily and quickly seek and settle for less than what God desires for us. Over and over again Jesus tells us not to seek our validation, recognition, and identity from others but from God.

I’m not saying that what others think or say does not matter but, rather, that they are earthly treasures that cannot last and in the final analysis do not change us, our mortality, or the fragility of our life. Yesterday’s praise can quickly become today’s condemnation.


Today’s recognition and adulation give way to tomorrow’s question, “What have you done for me lately?” It is not us who changed, but the opinions of the others.

Others simply cannot give us the life we want. It is not theirs to give. Our life is not found in or determined by their recognition or their approval. Ironically, it is found in recognizing and accepting our own mortality, the very thing we seek to escape through the praise, approval, and recognition of others. Ash Wednesday holds that truth before us.


Today we not only face our mortality, we mark ourselves with the ashes of mortality. Think about what we are doing. This year’s ashes were last year’s palms. We carried them in celebration and triumph last year on Palm Sunday. They were once green and supple, a sign of life and victory. Then they became dry, brittle, and brown. Today they are gray ash, remnants and remains from the fire of change.


That is not just about the liturgy that is about our lives. It is the reminder that our past accomplishments, successes, and triumphs will fade, grow old, and become ashes. The voices of praise will one day grow silent. These earthly treasures will, in Jesus’ words, be consumed by rust, eaten by moths, and stolen by thieves. Yesterday’s palms are today’s ashes.


The ashes of our mortality are not, however, the end. They are the beginning of a new story and the way forward. They open us to the life of God, a life others cannot give us and we cannot give ourselves. Until we know ourselves as mortal we have no need of the Immortal One. And until we know our lives and ourselves to be connected and linked to the eternal life and presence of God we will always demand the world give us its recognition for what we think we have done or possess.

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