It has been quite a few years since I have been able to sit in a pew on Ash Wednesday, so it was a particular gift for me today. When we hit our knees, the muscle memory took me back to a small chapel at St. Patrick's in DC, the chapel where I received ashes throughout college, the chapel where I really discerned my call to the priesthood. When our celebrant, the Rev. Molly James, invited us, in the name of the Church, to a holy Lent, I was reminded of other moments when I've been so invited. And throughout the liturgy, was reminded of what a privilege it is for us to draw near to God.
In many ways, the season of Lent is an invitation to draw nearer to God and to each other, and in some ways, it is an invitation to draw more near to the people God calls us to be. The ashes on our foreheads remind us of our mortality and of the ever-changing nature of this life. They remind us, too, as Molly said earlier today, that nothing in this world lasts forever. And yet, they take the same shape as the cross traced on our heads at our baptisms, a cross that reminds us of something very permanent - something that can never be destroyed or taken away from us: the promise of life in Jesus Christ who is victorious over death.
In our burial rite, we say, "In the midst of life we are in death..." And I'd say that the reverse is true as well - particularly in Lent - when we are the midst of death. Then as Christians, we know we are called back to life, because we are resurrection people. We believe in a Messiah who rises again, a light that shines in the darkness, and hope that cannot die. We know that even at the grave, as we make our song, God has already won the victory - and that death has already been conquered for us through the power of Christ and the cross. And so in Lent, I think it is fitting for us, even as we enter into a holy Lent, as we may space to listen for God, as we examine our lives and our patterns, we must remember WHY we do this. It isn't to focus just on our mortality, or the ways in which we are flawed, or to feel ashamed or badly about ourselves. We enter into the Lenten season of a deep desire to be more faithful, to walk more nearly with Jesus, and to clear some of the clutter out of our lives that will allow us to do that.
So, I pray that no matter who invited you today to observe a holy Lent, that you hear those words and take them in. I pray that you will makes peace - in whatever way will help you most - to listen and wait for God and to examine your life in the light of the Gospel. I hope you will join with the faithful around the world in repenting of those things we have done wrong and those good things we have failed to do. And I pray that you will remember throughout the season that God loves you and has made a way for you. May we all, when the light of Easter breaks, have journeyed faithfully enough that this light might be born again in our hearts, ready to shine the light of the Gospel in the world around us.
God bless you as you begin this journey.