Today is “Ash Wednesday” –a time when Christians around the world receive a mark of ashes in the shape of a cross on their foreheads as a symbol of their repentance and contrition in preparation for our journey of following Jesus to the cross. The mark quickly fades, reminding us that our sins have been removed by the grace of God through Christ and that we have been restored to God and made full members of God’s new community.
Today is also the day we embark on our “fast for freedom” to break the chains of injustice. On this day, we are also reminded that millions of people in the United States have been given a mark due to an infraction of the law. They are FELONS–a label that will follow them the rest of their lives. While our mark of ashes reminds us of forgiveness, their mark remains and reminds them that they will never again be able to participate fully in the life of the community. The mark will keep them from employment, government educational loans, SNAP benefits, public housing, professional licenses and even the right to vote.
While we rejoice in the grace of God, we must also grieve that we live in a country that fails to show mercy and fails to restore those who have “paid their debt to society.”
To draw attention to this failure to restore brothers and sisters to the community, many of us are choosing to wear black armbands today to show our solidarity with the felon and to call the church and the nation to restorative justice–not punishment that never ends.