Week One: Ash Wednesday
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Today we begin our Lenten journey to Easter. The word Lent means spring, but it is far more than a reference to a season where flowers push their way up through the ground. Good thing, because there is not much of that happening here in the ice and snow of Calgary. Lent is about much more. It is about “the greening of the human soul–pruned with repentance, fertilized with fasting, spritzed with self-appraisal, mulched with prayer.” (Barbara Brown Taylor) It is a season when we choose to put ourselves in places, and situations where we can be reminded of our great need and of our Saviour’s great love, desire and power to meet that need. We practice “subtraction”, fasting from particular foods or activities to heighten our awareness that Jesus died to provide all we need. We deny ourselves small things, recalling that Jesus gave his very life. Each time our body reminds us of our desire for the thing we fast from, we are reminded that only in Jesus are we truly satisfied. We also give time to prayer, we open our hearts and minds to God’s Word and we reach out to others in love reflecting the mercy of our God.
But in case in all our excitement we begin to believe that with all this effort we can accomplish the “greening of our souls,” we encounter Ash Wednesday. At the very onset of the journey our self-improvement plans get a reality check. On this day we recall that we are dust. We recall that on our own we can do nothing, that our ways are a far cry from God’s ways. At Ash Wednesday services, the foreheads of followers of Jesus are marked with an ashen sign of the cross. The ash used in these services is made from the burned Palm Sunday branches of the year before. With these palms the people hailed Jesus as King and anticipated his glorious rule and defeat of their enemies. Turned to ashes, these palms remind us that when we think we can lead the way to victory on our own terms we always fail. The ashen palms remind us that new beginnings are often born when old false things are allowed to die. And they remind us that the way to life that Jesus modeled is through vulnerability, brokenness and ultimately death. It comes through surrender rather than striving.
Recently I was speaking with someone about helping people grow in their faith. Relating to a plan for spiritual growth it was said, “At some point it is nice to be able to tell people they have done enough.” The statement did not sit right with me, but it took me a while to realize why. “You have done enough” assumes that we have the ability to make ourselves acceptable to God and at some point can rest from our completed work. God knows I am not enough and on every step of the journey he knows that my efforts will never be enough, yet he cheers me on each broken and faltering step of the way. I am freed of the need to do enough and I journey forward in the knowledge that I don’t have to get it right to please God. In fact, it is in the places where I get it wrong that I experience his grace most profoundly.
We are but dust, and as such we are very slow learners. If we learned more quickly Lent could perhaps be 40 minutes rather than 40 days. For our sakes, it is not. God created us as creatures of time and he has chosen to transform us over time. Take this time as a gift. Take time to listen to God, choose life-giving practices, pray, fast, give. It will never be enough… but that’s okay. It is not about what we do, but in whom we trust. Blessings on you as you walk this Lenten journey in the presence of our God of grace, forgiveness and love.
Prayer: Lord God, as I step into this sacred time I choose to set it apart for you. I offer you the things I do asking that you would use them to draw me closer to you. I offer them along with my very self as a gift, knowing full well that my gift is meager but your grace is immense. Along this journey from death to resurrection, help me to begin to grasp the wonder of your way, the way of the cross. Amen
Contributed by Pastor Carla Olsen Draper