Ash Wednesday

Today is the beginning of Lent, a time as the Prayer Book says of “lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness.” Fun times, I know, and I cannot deny that it is indeed THE most somber season of the Church calendar as evidenced by the language of penitence, fasting, and self-denial.

And yet…Lent, I believe is meant to be so much more. Notice in the opening Collect that this “lamenting and acknowledging of our wretchedness” is couched within an all encompassing Love, capital L, who hates nothing that (S)He has made and who longs to bestow mercy and perfect remission (pardon, release from a debt or penalty) and forgiveness; and to create in us new and contrite (sorry for our sins/wrongs) hearts.

This is a time of preparation for receiving what Christ has done for us and for living out his resurrection in powerful ways in our lives. It is a time of preparation through rigorous examination of our lives, the things done and left undone. It is a time when we lay down all the veils behind which we hide our true selves. We say “no” to the distractions that keep us from seeing ourselves and from seeing God. We quiet our hearts to listen, and focus our eyes to see. And why do we do this? It’s not just because we’re told to, or in order to be obedient to God.

We do all these things so that we may be transfigured/transformed by Love; that we would become a people of shining faces, as we talked about on Sunday. The Scriptures tell us that God is Love and the point of everything God does and decrees is so that we may know, understand, and receive that Love. We come to God and repent because we don’t want anything to come between God and us.

Now I’m not in the habit of preaching prescriptively—that is, telling you how to follow the rules and live your lives—but I earnestly want to encourage and inspire us all to take full advantage of this invitation to a holy Lent, so I’ll offer some possible examples of how we might want to unpack and understand this time of self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and meditating on God’s Word. Take what resonates for you, see if it triggers things more pertinent for you, and discard the rest.

We can certainly give up chocolate, or some other beloved thing, as a way of keeping Lent, and we can also delve into the deeper soul work indicated by the list above from the Prayer Book.

Laying down the veils behind which we sometimes hide is hard and courageous work. Maybe one of the things you might want to ask yourself: Are you your own harshest critic? Do you compare yourself to others and find yourself usually coming up short? Do you listen to that voice that always seems to be telling you that you’re not {whatever} enough?

Then there are all the things that we might turn to, other than God, in order to make our lives work, or in order to just make things manageable. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Friar and inspirational speaker, says that we’re all addicted to something. It might be drugs or alcohol or food. And it also might be things like wanting everyone to think well of us all the time, or of always needing to appear strong and refusing to be vulnerable. Maybe it’s an addiction to making everyone like us, or a driving need to always get it right.

Is there someone we need to forgive (or at least release back to God for God to deal with)? Again, this is the hard soul work that takes great courage and not a small amount of grace. It is also very often slow work. A favorite writer of mine1 pointed out that God may have created the world in 7 days and raised Jesus in 3 but the rest of the time God does not seem to be in such a hurry. I can certainly attest to that in my own life, so the thing to hang on to is that as the Scriptures say, God is faithful and always finishes what (S)He started.

Lastly, I want to offer you a poem that changed how I think about this idea of fasting and self-denial:
Fast from fear; Feast on Faith
Fast from despair; Feed on hope.
Fast from gravity; Feast on joy and humor.
Fast from depressing news; Feed on prayer.
Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger and worry; Feed on patience.
Fast from negative thinking; Feast on positive thinking.
Fast from bitterness; Feed on love and forgiveness.
Fast from words that wound; Feast on words that heal.

My hope for us all is that the Holy Spirit will gently guide us to a fast from the things that keep us from being in loving relationship with God and each other. I pray that as we are mindful of our feasting and fasting that we will glimpse the glory of the One that loves us so much, and be changed. And lastly, I pray that in being changed and transformed that we will be agents of God’s kingdom in the world. We live among frightened, suffering, and hurting people. Some of us are those people. But we are also bearers of God’s love and hope in the world. So, as we come the Lord’s Table, which is the true and great feast, may we bring all that we are and come not only for solace but also for strength; not only for pardon, but also for renewal—and really know that we belong to the God whose name is Love.

Amen.