It’s Ash Wednesday again, and if you don’t have plans tonight I’d like to invite you to join my family at St. John’s Episcopal Church for the imposition of ashes and celebration of the Holy Eucharist. (I’m working all day and can’t make an earlier service.) We’ve come to another Lenten Season, a time of reflection, repentance, sometimes rededication. But, why ashes?
I think it’s fair to say that most of us don’t think about our death each day. And really it’s probably healthy for us not to be too focused on our impending deaths. Once in a while though, it’s good and it’s healthy to remember that our journey here on earth needs to be made with intention, and it needs to be made in view of the end and the destination of our journey.
The ashes remind us in a very tangible way that our bodies are not eternal. The imposition of ashes and the words that are spoken in the services every year on Ash Wednesday remind us that our bodies will be a memory one day. Yet, we are also reminded that we are eternal beings, linked to the divine for all times. These shells, our mortal bodies, have meaning and purpose, but also have a timeframe in which they operate.
With this in view we begin a another 40 day journey of reflection, of introspection. We begin a 40 day journey of looking over our lives and dreaming about what our lives may yet become. This is a journey that is taken in prayer, fasting and often with extra time built into each day for study and meditation. Lent can be an important time of spiritual reset, emotional strengthening, intellectual inspiration and much needed rest from the diversions that plague us and fatigue us throughout the rest of the year.
Yes, I encourage you to fast during this time. I will be beginning my usual meat fast for the next 40 days. But more than just fasting from something, I would like to join the many voices every year that remind us that fasting is also about attaining something not just giving something up. Fasting also has a component of connection with others. I encourage you to think creatively, to dream and to imagine ways to go deeper with your faith, to grow deeper with others. I encourage you to think about your daily spiritual practices, and maybe put a finger on something that has been dropped or an important part of life that you’ve neglected. When we’re doing this kind of reflection, then we can take steps to strengthen up our spirits, to rebuild our intentions, and to refocus on the central things of life, both for ourselves and others. We’ll be blogging and working along these lines during the Lenten Season. Here’s a piece of one of my favorite passages about fasting, Isaiah 58; I’ll just leave it here…
4 Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.5 Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?6 Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Our lives are often long and they are sometimes short. Our lives are marked by ups and downs, and our lives are often spent learning lessons and trying to remember the things we’ve been taught. Like the ashes which will wash away when you get home, or the next time you take a shower, our lives have a beginning and an end. The beginning is set for us, and is out of our hands. The end is also often provided for us without a lot of input from our wishes, desires or ideas of timing. But all those in-between days are the open fields in which we run, they are the canvases upon which we paint, and they are the paper upon which we have the opportunity to help write our stories.
I bless you in this Lenten season. And I ask you to bless me. May we each be reminded in the best way and the most healthy way that we are not eternal upon this earth, but our lives are still pregnant with meaning and infused with God’s presence, God’s will and God’s love. Reflecting upon these things, it is my prayer that in the next 40 days we will be able to go deeper, deeper as individuals beloved of God and deeper together as the family God has made upon this earth.
Oh, one last thing… I was asked if I would preach the sermon this coming Sunday night at the 5 PM service, February 14. If your Valentine’s Day plans will be concluded by five, I’d invite you to come worship with us at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda, MD. It’s a blue jeans and sweatshirt kind of service, and an inclusive congregation that welcomes you as you are, so please feel a full and a complete invitation to come be with us.