ASH WEDNESDAY AND LENT
“Eternal Lord of love, behold your Church
walking once more the pilgrim way of Lent . . .”
(The Hymnal 1982 # 149)
As the hymn above suggests, Lent is a communal pilgrimage, a journey of the whole Church following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, to his Passion and death, and to his resurrection, under the watchful, loving protection of God. Lent is traditionally the time of preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil, and for those already baptized, for the renew of our baptismal covenant, those promises that proclaim our intention to allow baptism to continue to re-make us and our lives.
Ash Wednesday begins the journey through this 40-day season of self-examination, repentance, re-turning and renewal. We receive ashes on our foreheads as a mark both of our mortality and of our need to repent: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” says the one marking our foreheads, or “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” We remember that life is both precious and finite, and that what matters is what we do with it. And we re-claim the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, who in his living and dying and rising revealed the coming kingdom of God. Through our baptism, Christ has brought us into his risen life and called us to be fellow builders of the kingdom in the here and now.
In the 40 days of Lent, we undertake individual practices that increase in us our love of God, our faithfulness in service, our forgiveness of others and ourselves, our willingness to be transformed more and more into the pattern of Christ. In our Sunday gatherings for liturgy, and weekday gatherings for prayer and study, we share and shape these practices in community, supporting and encouraging one another along the way we travel together.
Lent is a penitential season . . . there is much we need to acknowledge and repent of as individuals, as a faith community, as a society . . . much we have done that runs counter to the coming of the kingdom. It takes time to move deeply into that place of honesty and truth-telling and repentance, to dare to open ourselves to the transforming power of Christ. And yet, Lent is not a dreary or depressing season. As the second of the two Lenten prefaces to the Eucharistic Prayer puts it:
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. You bid your faithful people cleanse their hearts and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast, that fervent in prayer and in works of mercy, and renewed by your Word and Sacraments, they may come to the fullness of grace which you have prepared for those who love you.”
(The Book of Common Prayer, page 379)
Lent is a season in which the love of God bursts into new bloom in God’s people, the fullness of God’s grace bringing resurrection, bearing fruit in our lives and the life of the world.