But in all these stories – these prophets and kings were anointed with oil.
Oil on their forehead – on top of their head sometimes – that poured down their necks – Running onto their collars. Oil – precious oil – that set them aside for the purpose God had in mind. For the work God wanted them to do. Oil as a sign of God's abundant blessing on their life - and their work - a sign of God's perfect and abundant love for them.
At our baptism – each one of us is anointed like the prophets before us – a cross of oil – traced onto our forehead – to set us aside – to remind us that we are precious in the sight of God – And that we have a purpose – to build God’s vision of a people who live in peace – a people who show each other love and mercy. At our baptism we are anointed – to share God’s good news with the people around us – to share the story of Jesus Christ in word and deed.
When a priest traces this cross on the forehead and says – you are sealed by the Holy Spirit – and marked as Christ’s own forever, God calls us by name. And promises us that nothing can separate us from the power of God and the love of Jesus Christ. No matter what we do – or where we go – this cross – once traced on our forehead says that we belong to Jesus. Tonight, we wear different crosses on our foreheads. Crosses made of ash. Crosses that mark the beginning of the holy season of Lent – and remind us that we are mortal. Made of this same dust. We begin this holy season by remembering that we are only human…that our bodies will fail. And our time will run out.
In a few minutes I will invite you, in the name of the church, to observe a holy Lent.
The Gospel tells us that a holy Lent isn’t about being seen to do good things – it isn't about visible sacrifice of public piety - but rather is about an internal examination –
A rending of our hearts – a giving over of control to God.
This season has given rise to the tradition of giving things up –
Like chocolate – or television – or facebook.
Practical things – that when we give them up – make room for other things.
Better things. Healthier patterns and ways of living. There are also those that will take things on. Spiritual practices – an exercise routine – more service or outreach.
All of these things are good if they bring us closer to God.
If they make more room in our hearts for God.
If they bring the volume of the world down – so that we can better hear God and our neighbor.
Lent is often characterized rather badly – as if we should walk around sullen and solemn all the time – feeling guilty for something that we’ve done or not done.
But Lent is really an invitation to learn how to live better.
To watch Jesus – and try harder. To let go of the patterns and routines in our life that are unhealthy – and to build in their place new ways of living that will bless us and the people around us.
You are invited to observe this kind of Lent. And to prepare for the great Paschal feast – when we welcome the risen Christ. You will only be able to welcome him newly – and know him better – if you have walked the pilgrim road of Lent – tracing the patterns of his life – and trying to make yours look more like his.
So I invite you into this kind of Lent.
To examine your heart – and your way of living –
To remember the purpose to which God called you at your baptism –
And to find new ways to live into that purpose –
To do the work of the Christian. The work that God has given you to do.
But remember as you enter this holy season – and as you strive to follow after Jesus –
Remember even tonight as you wash the ash off your forehead –
That underneath that cross of ash – is a cross traced in holy oil.
And that cross – can never be washed off.
It can never be taken from you. And it promises you that God has more stored up for you after this life. So when your time runs out – and this body made of dust does indeed fail – there is another life to come.
Let this cross of ash call you to a new awareness of yourself – and of God’s great love for you. Let it remind you of the shortness and uncertainty of this life. Let it awaken in you a renewed desire to be the prophet – the leader – the building of justice that God has called you to be.
Let it call you back to the heart of God – so that you might learn to hear God better –
And see Christ more clearly in your neighbor.
But never forget that there is a much more powerful cross on your forehead –
One stronger than sin – and stronger death –
And that cross – means that you are the beloved child of God.
Precious in God’s sight.
And anointed in this life to do God’s work – even as we prepare for the next life.