For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.
Recently a relatively new acquaintance in the diocese told me that when he first met me and heard me talk about my ministry, he didn’t understand why anyone would do environmental ministry; for him it didn’t seem to fit the model of other ministries of the church. But he then said that after hearing me talk about creation care, he had begun to notice how often we pray for the earth and its resources, for God’s creation, and realized that concern for creation is found throughout our liturgy. I thought about this conversation after our midday Ash Wednesday service because repentance for our poor stewardship of the environment and for our lack of concern about that poor stewardship is spelled out clearly in these lines from the Litany of Penitence.
In fact, many of the sins we confess in the Litany of Penitence are directly related to issues of environmental stewardship: self-indulgence, exploitation of other people, an intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our blindness to human needs and suffering (including the suffering of people whose health is affected by air and water pollution or climate change). As we pray this litany on Ash Wednesday, it’s easy to read the words and move on to the next part of the litany without connecting what we are saying to any particular actions or situations; it’s easy to be sincere about our penitence on an abstract level without connecting that penitence to areas where we could and should make changes in our own lives. It might be good to find some quiet time early on during Lent to pray through the Litany of Penitence (pp. 267-269 in the Book of Common Prayer) slowly, taking the time to think more specifically about where we have fallen short so that we can truly repent and turn toward better ways of living our lives.
Today’s lectionary text from Isaiah (Isaiah 58:1-12) says that a true fast, a day truly acceptable to the Lord, consists of acts of mercy and justice. When we do these things, says Isaiah, we will find ourselves strengthened and guided by God. The passage ends with the statement that those who meet the needs of others and relieve suffering will “be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in”. Pollution and climate change are leaving many places where people live in need of restoration. God has work for us to do when we get up off our knees.