Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

This was my A.W. sermon, as well as The Wednesday Word that I send out weekly to parishioners.  Yes, I double-dipped . . . So sue me.


“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.  And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.”
Invitation to a holy Lent, final paragraph, BCP 265

Every year on this day, Ash Wednesday, we hear these words immediately before the imposition of ashes.  Every year we are called to observe a holy Lent through prayer, fasting and study.  Every year we are called to make a right beginning.  And every year it is that final sentence that eventually convicts me as guilty of being unable to live up to and into expectations, standards and vows made.

Every year I talk about giving something up for Lent and making sure to replace what we gave up with something else; because, really, giving something up just leaves a habitual hole that will eventually get filled with something equally bad if we aren't careful.  Give up sweets and replace them with baby carrots.  Cut down on energy drinks, replace it with basic water, and give the money saved to the discretionary fund.  Help protect the environment by reducing how many times you drive your car and figure out when and where you can walk or bike instead.  Give up one or two television shows and fill the time with reading Scripture or some other edifying work.  Give up a television show and fill the time with prayer.

The point of all this is not to feel like we are fasting 40 days and nights in the wilderness so that we are famished when Easter arrives.  The point of all this is not to endure Lent so that we can “get back to normal” after Easter.  The point of all this is not to make Lent miserable, but holy.  The point of all this is to make a right beginning.

Lent basically began as a lead-in to Easter.  “If we are going to celebrate the Resurrection and all that means,” those first Christians thought, “then maybe it would be helpful if we spent time contemplating the Resurrection and what it means for us and for all humanity.”  And so developed the custom of preparing for that holy time in what we now know as the season of Lent.  And also over time, unfortunately, Lent took on the tone of self-flagellation, reminding everyone what poor, miserable sinners they were, and got everybody singing, “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I'll go eat worms.”

But what it changed into misses the point that Lent is, or should be, a season of holy self-examination.  What it changed into was that Lent is about drawing closer to God.  What it changed into misses the point that Lent is about right beginnings.  And it's the right beginning that eventually convicts me as guilty of being unable to live up to and into expectations, standards and vows made.

Because although I make vows and set expectations and standards at the beginning of every Lent, I eventually fall short and fall back into old habits and patterns.  I fall back into those things because they are easy and mindless.  Eventually I find that I have returned to life as normal.  And just as certain that I will fail at some vow or expectation or standard and return to life as normal, it is just as certain that Ash Wednesday and Lent will arrive next year to politely request that I make a right beginning.

At baptism we are sealed and marked as Christ’s own forever.  The ashes you receive today are an outward and visible sign of that perpetual mark.  But unlike the one-time event that is baptism, and unlike the indissoluble seal given at baptism, discipleship is an everyday struggle with its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, successes and failures, falling away and drawing nearer, and its continual call to make a right beginning.

Today may we make a right beginning so that, come Easter, we don't return to life as normal, but begin a life resurrected.



Lady Anne | 9:46 PM, February 21, 2015  

The Squire and I went to the noon service, which is generally better attended than the later one. (We are, unfortunately, primarily a congregation of retirees.) The evening service was called off because of a snow storm.

We got a foot of snow today, to be followed by freezing rain later on, so no church again tomorrow.

Local grandson is a lineman for the electric company. Real feel of minus 17 and he's up on a pole. In the dark. Remember him in your prayers.

Reverend Ref + | 3:54 PM, February 22, 2015  

This prayer from Compline seems appropriate:

O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other's toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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