Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Ash Wednesday Meditation (a little late)

Here are my thoughts from Ash Wednesday, last week. I thought I'd share them here, as we continue on our Lenten journey this year...

It’s Gonna Take All of Us!

Ash Wednesday Meditation

March 9, 2011

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

The contemporary Christian music group Jars of Clay released an album last fall called “The Shelter,” with songs based on an Irish proverb, “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Though Ash Wednesday and the call to observe a Holy Lent is in many ways about personal penitence and self-examination, it takes all of us to get through the journey from now to Easter.

Our scripture lesson from Matthew calls us to remember that our acts of piety, of personal discipline, are best performed out of the limelight. We are not called to make a big show of our piety. We are not called to bring attention to the things we sacrifice during Lent, or the ways we make changes in our lives. But we are called to make changes during Lent. Whether you may give up a favorite food or spend more time than usual studying scripture, doing something different is a big part of observing Lent.

The reason we do something different at Lent is not because it makes us better than people who don’t observe the season. We take time to offer ourselves to God in a new way during Lent, to let God work on us in different ways from the “norm,” to make us into the people God is calling us to be. It is a time of self-examination—we may find stuff we don’t like about ourselves, and that “stuff” may be exactly what God is working on changing at this time. We need to take time to pray, fast, study scripture, and get into the disciplines of our faith, during Lent, if during no other time in the year.

But we come to church on Ash Wednesday to worship together. We sit together, while we hear the call to observe a Holy Lent. We covenant together to embark on this journey toward Easter—toward the celebration our own redemption, our own hope, once again. We are truly always on a journey, but during Lent, perhaps, we realize it more than at any other time of the year. And it’s gonna take all of us to get through it! The prophet Joel told the people to come together, to fast together, to call a solemn assembly, in order to get God’s attention. It would take the whole community—newborn babies and the “chronologically gifted”—meeting together, crying out to God, for their redemption, for forgiveness, for hope for the future. And Joel says, maybe, just maybe, if we all get together and meet in God’s house, God will hear us and turn back to us and change our situation.

The Israelites knew that they were in this thing together. As much as each individual was responsible for living up to the expectations (laws) of the faith, they were God’s chosen people, together. As we face our own mortality this Lent, our own sin, our own need to confess and be turned by God back onto the right paths, we come and do that together. The road ahead of us, through Lent, through unseen trials and temptations of any season, may not look easy. We may get tired. And that is why we remember that we go through Lent together. “It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” Members of our faith community are already going through difficult times, and we are called to be their shelter, as people who all need forgiveness, change, and hope.

This Lenten season, make your personal commitment to the disciplines God is calling you to. Learn to practice your piety with sincere motives, in private places, for God, not the whole world, to know. But find at least one other person to help keep you accountable, too. And remember, we are all still in this together. It’s gonna take all of us to get through this—and we’ll come out on the other side of Lent rejoicing—together. The song says it this way:

Come away from where you’re hiding

Set aside the lies that you’ve been living

May this place of rest in the fold of your journey

Bind you to hope that we will never walk alone

If there is any peace, if there is any hope

We must all believe, our lives are not our own

We all belong

God has given us each other

And we will never walk alone

None of us will do a perfect job with our Lenten disciplines this year, most likely. We may find ourselves complaining about whatever we’ve decided to do or not do. We may completely forget about it, some day. But we have come together tonight to commit to trying to be different people, at the end of these 40 days, and it will take all of us together to make that happen. If you received ashes on Ash Wednesday, or even if you didn’t, know that you are human and sinful, made from dust—as the ashes remind us, but also God’s—marked by God’s own sign. And we are in this together. Let’s go through this journey, together, with God at our side the whole way.