Ash Wednesday, Year C, 2007

Today we observe one of the most solemn days of the church year:  Ash Wednesday.  On this day we remember our mortality and begin 40 days of Lent, during which we prepare ourselves for Christ’s death and resurrection.

Last week at Children’s worship, Jane Lynch spoke to the kids about how Lent is a time to prepare for Christ’s death and resurrection.  When one little boy got back to his mother, he tugged at her anxiously and said, “They killed Baby Jesus!”  Because this was new information to this almost-three year old, he was able to experience the deep shock and pain of Christ’s death.  Just wait until he hears that Christ comes to life again!  He’s going to be blown away.

As adult believers, it is difficult to keep the sorrow over Christ’s death and the joy over the resurrection fresh.  We have heard the story over and over again, but the meaning of the story begins to recede as time passes.  We go about our days getting more and more caught up in the details:  what to make for dinner, what needs to be crossed off our to-do lists, where the kids need to be when.  We don’t have a lot of time to think about theological issues.

Ash Wednesday pulls the rug out from under us.  As we have ashes imposed on our foreheads, as we hear the words, ‘From dust you came and to dust you shall return,” we remember that no matter how many errands we run, how many meals we cook, how many days we go into the office, all that will stop one day, and we will die. 

Suddenly Christ’s death and resurrection take on a great deal of significance.  For, through this miraculous event, our deaths are no longer meaningless and terrifying.  Because of Christ’s resurrection, we know we have a hope and a future. 

So, now that we have been stopped short from our crazy lives, how can we live the next 40 days in such a way that will ready us to hear the good news of God’s salvation?

Our Gospel passage today, guides us, through telling us what Jesus does not want.  What Jesus does not want is for us to beat our chests in public, shouting “woe is me!” so that everyone knows how fabulously penitent we are this Lent.

Like most of our faith, Lent is about relationship. 

When we sacrifice something we enjoy, we open space in our lives for God to enter.  Each time we reach for that cookie, or the remote, or whatever it is we have decided to sacrifice, we are reminded of God’s presence.  Think of that object of sacrifice as a little post-it-note reminding you to say hello to God, reminding you to meditate on Christ’s suffering and glory.  Sacrificing is difficult, but it turns us toward our maker, the One who gives us strength when we are weak and forgiveness when we are even weaker. 

Lent is not about how much you can punish yourself.  Lent is about finding a way to open yourself to the One who created you and who sacrifices his own identity for you.   Lent is about drawing near to God’s presence.  Sacrifice reveals to us our own weaknesses and the strength of our desires for things that are not essential, maybe even not good for us.  When we are reminded of our own weakness, we turn to God, for help and for mercy.

This last week, Chuck and I have been spending a lot of time with a young couple whose twins were born nearly three months early.  We’ve also spent a lot of time with families planning their matriarchs and patriarch’s funerals.  In both these cases-at the fragile beginning of life and the quiet end-these families were turned to God, seeking comfort, healing, and understanding. 

For these families, sacrifice is not an abstract concept, but a very concrete one.  They know that when their security is taken from them, turning to God can bring meaning and comfort. 

In a similar, but much smaller way, our sacrifices help us to cling to God.  For as our psalmist reminds us today:

As a father cares for his children, *
so does the LORD care for those who fear him.
For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.
Our days are like the grass; *
we flourish like a flower of the field;
When the wind goes over it, it is gone, *
and its place shall know it no more.
But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever on those who fear him, *
and his righteousness on children’s children.

God loves us and desires relationship with us.  This Lent we are invited to enter more deeply into that relationship.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Ash Wednesday, Year B, 2006

From our Psalm today:  “He redeems your life from the grave, and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness”

Today we gather to observe Ash Wednesday.  We gather to remember our mortality, to repent of our sins, and to prepare ourselves for Lent.  This service is a painful one-full of images of our brokenness and our sin, but it is not a service that is without hope. 

Ash Wednesday and Lent provide the space for us to contemplate the darker areas of our lives.  We spend so much of our time fulfilling responsibilities that need to be filled, we tend not to have a lot of time to think and pray about the larger issues that may haunt us-grief over a loved ones’ death or the end of a relationship, fear about our own deaths, concern about our separation from God.  Unlike the sometimes forced cheerfulness of Christmas or Easter, Lent gives us permission to be more contemplative, less happy. 

For me, Lent is a time to remember my mother’s death.  She died six years ago this week.  Each Lent that has followed has felt a little different.  The first Lent I was still too stunned to feel much of anything.  The second Lent I was angry and felt piercing sadness. By the third Lent, I had found some level of peace and resignation.  In preparation for this Ash Wednesday, this Lent, I have been thinking about these words we will use in a few minutes:  Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return. 

At the end of the day, at the end of our lives, we are but flesh.  My mother was dead two days before anyone found her, and the image of her abandoned, lifeless body has stayed with me as an image of the organic finality of death.  The last few years, we have been overwhelmed by images of death:  the victims of the Tsumani, of the war in Iraq, of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  The image of an unclaimed body is a lonely one, and thousands of bodies remain unclaimed, unidentified from these disasters.  What are we, in the end, but dust?  A pile of molecules tentatively held together by water and energy.  Or are we?

The words “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return” contain more than this barren image of death. Humans do not only end as dust, we began as dust as well. 

Remember you are dust. . . evokes the image of the Creator God breathing into dust to create human life.  When we say Remember you are dust and to dust you will return. . .we remind ourselves that the very ground of our being both created us and will be with us when we die.  We are reminded that our deaths are not a mere organic event, but are a transition-all within the scope of God’s loving care.  There is no place we can run to escape the love of God. Even our deaths do not separate us from Him. 

My mother was not really alone at the time of her death, and none of us will be, either.  We are not alone in our grief, in our depression, in our anger, even in our loneliness.  The same God who breathed life into the first man, and tenderly created the first woman, made each of us, and we rest in his loving hands throughout our entire lives.  Death is not powerful enough to separate us from our Creator and Redeemer.  Nothing is. 

This Lent, we are invited to draw near to this God who created us with such care and affection.  We repent of our sins and give up small pleasures during Lent, not because God wants to judge us, but because God wants us to draw near to him, to need him in a way we don’t often allow ourselves. 

God wants to breathe life into you just as he breathed life into Adam. 

 He redeems your life from the grave, and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;