So I went to the Ash Wed. Service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. It was really early and only a few people arrived for the 7am service. (The church had 3 other times you could attend…so most people go to the later services.) However, I love the tired feeling during an early morning Ash Wednesday service. It feels real, raw, kinda painful, and humbling. Growing up Church of Christ (it is kind of like Baptist but without a piano), I had very little understanding of Lent or the Ashes my friends received the day after Mardi Gras. I thought it was a crazy Catholic ritual. However, after attending Duke Divinity I fell in love with the Lenten practice and Christian liturgy. The practice is a visible representation of what is happening in our spiritual lives. We are broken people. Addicted to the our rationality. We are mortal…and to ashes we will return. Therefore, we need a savior beyond the self. We need to repent…be penitent. During the service the lector read from Isaiah 58:1-12. My favorite line is below but feel free to read the entire passage:
6“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
The sermon spoke about the importance of truly fasting and the focus on prayer during the Lenten period. Many of us give up something for lent, such as cokes, facebook, televison…or one’s house. Participating this way makes us apart of the practice. It looks good…and possibly physically helpful. But do these things really keep us away from God? A fasting practice is helpful only if its replaced with a spiritual discipline such as prayer, meditation, or Scripture and really focusing on the sinful practices that truly keep us from God. Think about it…What would it be like to give up gossip, malicious talk, spiritual distractions, or one’s pride for lent? Now that’s a little harder to rationalize to one’s self. And we are really good at rationalizing our problems. I do it all the time. How many times can I justify going to see movies “so I know what my students are watching.” We all do it. I hear parents say all the time…”The reason we miss church so much is because of our kids sports…and we committed to our coach and team…so we want to teach our kid to honor commitments.” It seems like a rational argument…but what does it really say about our spiritual lives?
Lent is 40 days. We are mere ashes. How are we going to use this time to flee from our selfish ways and fast from the things that keep us from Love? How can we turn our lives back to the Gospel and focus on the needs of others? Because if we humbly succeed…our light will break forth like the dawn, and our healing will quickly appear; then our righteousness will go before us, and the glory of the LORD will be our rear guard. Then we will call, and the LORD will answer; we will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.