Today is Ash Wednesday! One of the happiest of the liturgical calendar. Why? Isn’t this all about penitence and sin and death? What is happy about that? Well, as it turns out plenty! Ash Wednesday begins the 40 day observation of the season of Lent, a period of time when people prepared for the sacrament of baptism and those who had been separated from the church could be restored to full communion. It is traditionally a time of renewed devotion to God, reflected in fasting from rich food or some other practice that seeks to take ourselves out of the driver’s seat of life and invite God to be in control for a change. That is what I like about Lent, it is a time to acknowledge that God is God and we are not. It is a time to remember that we are mortal and life is short and we need to use the days we have for what is truly important; like loving. It is a time to admit, we have fallen short in that department, which is sin; failure to love others and trust God.
Lent is a joyful song sung in a minor key. Because we will see, (if we have the courage to look), that we, and our world, are in the need of the grace which God alone can give. We will see just how costly that grace is. Its price; a cross that God takes on fully for us in Jesus Christ. The cross that defeats all that threatens to separate us from God and each other:-death, sin, despair,-and give us instead: connection, redemption and resurrection. In that cross we see just how much God loves us, and when we see that it changes us and changes our world.
Lent is deep joy, unshakable joy, because it is not dependent on anything we do, but springs from the mercies of God toward us. It is deep joy because we can bring our whole selves, our failings, disappointments, our fear of death, and place it all in the everlasting arms of a powerful God who loves us. It is deep joy because God has addressed our deepest concern: separation; and therefore freed us to live fully and happily this life we are given
The seasons of the church year unfold God’s grace to us like a kaleidoscope refracts color and image in endlessly evolving beauty. Through the rhythms of the liturgical year; the anticipation of Advent; the joy of Christmas; the victory of Easter; the power of Pentecost, the daily gift of living in Ordinary Time, it is in the Season of Lent that we draw nearest to the full extent of God’s love and courage and learn to trust that love to heal and save us.
Ultimately, Ash Wednesday contains it all. In the ashes, out of the ashes, like a Phoenix, rises trust. Trust that God will hold it all, hold us all in the life that God, and God alone, has for us. That is a lot to celebrate. Happy Ash Wednesday!
Pastor Linda Farmer-Lewis, Central United Methodist Church, Lansing Michigan