2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
If I were to walk up to you and wish you a Happy Ash Wednesday, how would you react? If I were to say ‘I hope you have a great Lent,’ I imagine I’d get some strange looks, maybe a dubious smile, or perhaps even judged as being irreverent. Truth be told, Lent actually seems to be the opposite of happy and festive. We don’t ring bells in excitement. We don’t have a festive meal to mark the occasion. We deny ourselves certain creature comforts that have become staples of our happiness. We look with a strange combination of pity and amusement upon our fellow Episcopalians when they slip up and say “Allelu…!”[i] And we step outside the door of Ash Wednesday with a sigh, trying to psych ourselves up for the journey towards Easter which at this point seems to be nowhere in sight. Yet, we as Christians know that this is something we must do. Which way do we go? Just how far is it really? Do I have enough provisions to sustain me until I arrive? How did I get myself in this mess?
I admit, I have often stepped out on my Lenten journey with a sense of dread, fixated on just how it is I’ve gotten it all wrong, how badly I’ve messed up, and putting together in my mind the words I will need to pray in order for God to forgive me and take me back…..if I’m lucky. This isn’t necessarily inappropriate, but I think it turns a blind eye to a very important truth about our relationship with God. We often think that we must do the right thing in order to please God. We must say the right words to ‘woo’ God into thinking that were wonderful, smart, and loveable. If we act in the right way, God will react graciously.
Yet if we are really paying attention to the words we prayed at the beginning of the service, we will note something wonderful. “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.Create and make in us new and contrite hearts….”[ii] In actuality, it is God who has acted through creation and we are invited to respond. Not the other way around. Our opening Collect states not what God WILL do, but rather, what in fact God has done and continues to do. God’s action or rather God’s mission has been in motion long before our existence and our very creation is a call to join in that mission. But we do have a choice to whether we accept that vocational call to follow Jesus.[iii] Just like each of the disciples who encountered Jesus invitation to “follow me,” we too must decide whether to lay down our own self-interests that have gotten us in a pickle and join Him in the journey towards Easter.
And that is what Ash Wednesday is all about: an invitation. The Celebrant, through the language of the Prayer Book says: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”[iv] Lent is about taking some time to step back from the picture to take a look at the beauty of the canvas. What pieces of the puzzle are missing? What can we do with God’s help to bring the picture more fully into focus?
Our Lenten pilgrimage is one that is taken with Jesus, just like the disciples journeyed with him during his life and ministry here on earth. Jesus is God Emmanuel, which means God with us. We are not alone and Jesus knows the answers to our questions we asked earlier: Which way do we go? Just how far is it really? Do I have enough provisions to sustain me until I arrive? How did I get myself in this mess? God will help create in us new and contrite hearts if we will just hand over that which is superfluous and burdening us, and open our hands to receive the sustenance we will need for the journey. The way of Jesus is a way adventure and purpose if we will say ‘yes’ and realize to join God in this mission is to walk toward Easter and that’s great news! So, with that said, I hope you have a GREAT Lent!!!!
[i] In liturgical traditions the word ‘Alleluia’ is omitted from services during Lent until Easter.
[ii] Book of Common Prayer, p. 264
[iii] During this season, we are offering a Lenten program entitled “The Five Marks of Love,” which is based on the Five Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion. If you’d like to consider how it is you specifically are called into the mission of God, visit: http://ssje.org/ssje/5marksoflove/
[iv] Book of Common Prayer, p. 265