Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday - Open Wide and Say "Aahhhh", in Jesus' Name

Sunday's palms are Wednesdays ashes as another Lent begins; 
thus we kneel before the Maker in contrition for our sins.
We have marred baptismal pledges, in rebellion gone astray; 
now returning, seek forgiveness; grant us pardon, God, this day!

We have failed to love our neighbors, their offences to forgive,
have not listened to their troubles, nor have cared just how they live.
we are jealous, proud, impatient, loving over-much our things;
may the yielding of our failings be our our Lenten offerings.

We are hasty to judge others, blind to proof of human need; 
and our lack of understanding demonstrates our inner greed;
we have wasted earths resources; want and suffering we've ignored;
come and cleanse us, then restore us; make new hearts within us Lord.  -Rae B. Whitney (1991)

Today is one of reflection, purpose and introspection.  For we who observe Ash Wednesday, we know that we'll receive the mark of our mortality upon our foreheads and be reminded that but for God's grace we are lost.

And yet, this Ash Wednesday...this beginning of the Lenten journey is one that brings us back to the places we've been before.  Lent confronts us again with the "tempers and affections" we've brought to the altar during Lents past, presumably left them there, only to find we're far more comfortable with them in our lives (as sick as they make us) as we'd trust being liberated from them.  

The imagery of the palm fronds that last year's Palm Sunday were waved as we sang, "Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who come in the name of the Lord!" being now burned into the ashes which will mark us as the words, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," are spoken, is a potent thing to consider.  For most of my time in ministry, I've taken it upon myself to burn the palms.  It's not like I enjoy it.  In fact, on a windy day like today, burning dried out palms can turn into an adventure!

So, what's this Lenten journey about?  A fool's errand?  Is there something that can be found, given up, or taken on that can differentiate this Lent from so many others before it?

Maybe.  Hopefully.

Lent was and still is for many an intentional time of preparation and examination of one's faith as they prepared to come to the baptismal font at Easter.

Examination is still a good word, and maybe that's why we're not really sure what to do with this season.  I mean, really, who likes exams?

I had  a series physical, mental and spiritual exams a little over a month ago.  First physical since I had to take one to enter Vandy, and that was 1987.  Why?  Hate them.  Why?  Because it's one thing to live in the denial of what is true about me, it's another thing to have it quantified, written down in a chart, and measured as data that can both be interpreted about the reality of my health now and the measure against how I proceed toward health or digress from it in the future.

If we observe a holy Lent, then who we are and what we discover about ourselves, including and especially the places in us that do not foster love and life can be brought into the Light, and from there we can determine what we do with them and how we can go forward.

But to bring that which does not foster love and light into the Light makes it possible for others to know what we dare not acknowledge and work so hard to hide.  That vulnerability is scary, and that's why so many don't do it.  Truthfully, it's not as if others can't see it anyway....denial again.

In the end, and at the end - the life that Lent pushes us to aspire is one made sacred...if all we do is witness Jesus' life made sacred through the ultimacy of his self-giving, and think of it only in the abstract and not the particularity of our lives, then we've missed so much of an opportunity, and this Lent is just another Church season full of empty symbols.  

Let's take the journey.  Let's take it with brutal honesty and utter humility.  If we do, I suspect Holy Week will be one of great revelation that can steer our course in the reality of a resurrected life.

"Repent, and believe in the Gospel."

No comments: