Ash Wednesday: A Call to Wake Up

“Good morning, this is your six a.m. wake-up call. Have a nice day.” Lying in bed in that indeterminate state between sleep and wakefulness, such a call is not simply helpful, it can be crucial.

Without it, we might give into that alluring desire to roll back over and slumber and miss an important meeting or event. Of course, even when we are seemingly awake, we might simply be sleepwalking, moving through life on autopilot, our spiritual senses deadened as we go through the motions of our daily routine.

And let’s face it. There are so many aids at our disposal to help keep us in a sleepwalking state, preventing us from being fully awake and alert to the needs of the world and the power of God to redeem and transform.

As Jesus himself once noted, wealth can be a powerful impediment to spiritual attentiveness, for when we have so much, we are prone to forget what profound needs truly are before us. And lest I dare to contrast myself with famous billionaires in an effort to convince myself that I am not one of the wealthy, I have only to take notice of the countless persons throughout the world who do not have a fraction of what I have and admit that I am indeed—we are indeed—to be counted far more among the “haves” of the world than the “have-nots.”

How easy it is to worry about lesser things, to fight amongst ourselves, to find reasons to ignore the call to confront real injustice and make a difference in the world. As a gospel singer once noted, “The world is sleeping in the dark that the Church just can’t fight, ’cause it’s asleep in the light.” 

For those who are asleep or sleepwalking, Ash Wednesday is a powerful wake-up call. We are confronted with the stark reminder: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” —Genesis 3:19, NRSV. We can certainly try to convince ourselves that we are not mortal, pretend that we are not really sinners, ignore the spiritual needs deep inside us and the tangible needs in the world around us.  

But Ash Wednesday is a clarion, an alarm waking us to the reality that we are mortal, we are sinners, we do have spiritual needs whether we try to ignore them or not it…and we are needed to make a difference or, as Episcopal Relief & Development says, to “heal a hurting world.”

Ash Wednesday calls us to a life that may indeed be more challenging than cruising on autopilot but is ultimately much more fulfilling than we can possibly imagine.



The Rev. Canon C. K. Robertson, Ph.D. is the Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry Beyond The Episcopal Church.



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