Speaking to the Soul: A Clean Start

Week of Last Epiphany, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Philippians 4:1-9

John 17:9-19

At the end of the Ash Wednesday service this week, my husband retrieved our children from the church nursery. When my one-year-old daughter saw me, she couldn’t stop staring at the cross of ash on my forehead. My throat still swells when I think of how humbled I felt to look at my daughter’s face as she confronted, for the first time, that sign of her mother’s mortality and need for mercy. She didn’t fully grasp what she was seeing, but I knew full well that I was but dust before her.

My great hope is that I, assembled from dust, don’t bequeath to my daughter any fixed patterns of sin, and that I can remain strong and healthy for as long as she needs me. The ash on my forehead reminds me that there are limits to that hope. But today’s reading from the prophet Ezekiel gives me some confidence that my daughter can make a clean and strong start to her own life.

In the eyes of the prophet Ezekiel, each person has the opportunity to choose for themselves a life of sin or a life of righteousness. No one is punished for the sins of their parents, nor are parents accountable for the sins of their children. As the prophet says, “A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own.”

This perspective on sin seems so hopeful and fair. Every generation has the chance to make a clean start, and punishments and rewards can be the result of freely-chosen paths of iniquity or righteousness. While generational and systemic sin doesn’t loosen its grip quite this easily, the prophet declares that there is always room for each generation to turn from sin, to choose goodness, and to receive justice. Even as their parents revert to dust.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with education, young adult ministry, and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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