I have always been attracted to the formulations used during the distribution of the ashes on Ash Wednesday. Both the more traditional “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” (which I personally prefer) and “Repent and believe in the Gospel” remind us of our limitation. We are creatures with a ‘sell-by’ date, we are not gods. Our actions are limited by our mortality and, as the second formula reminds us, by our tendency to sin and our need for repentance.
Such an observation, made as Christians begin the Lenten season, should not be a source of sadness for us. Rather we should be joyful that we have the opportunity to remember, to count our blessings and note our failings with a view to turn again to God.
This year, the twenty-fifth anniversary of South Africa’s transition – from Apartheid and injustice to full democracy and a society rooted in human rights – let us take time out to assess how far we have come and how far we need to go, to fulfil God’s justice in our country. As we look back to 1994, we must look forward to the 2019 elections and ask: what must we – what must I – do to make democracy’s promise a reality for all our citizens?
Let us remember not only the faults and failings of our new democracy, but also its successes. Let us consider our successes and failures in this context and consider how we can help in our own ways to make democracy work, knowing that we are ourselves limited (dust) and that what we need is a group effort to help make God’s justice live in our country.
In our reflections, let us balance the plea of the prophet Joel: “make not your heritage a reproach” (Joel 2:17) with Paul’s confident claim “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor:6.2).