LENTEN CONNECTIONS 2015: Ash Wednesday

Lent 2014 A Time to Prepare

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 a lot of that happening here in 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 practices that remind us of our great need and of our Saviour’s great love.  We practice “subtraction,” fasting from particular foods or activities, giving things up to heighten our awareness that Jesus gave up his very life for us.  As we deny ourselves small things, each time our bodies remind us of our desire for those things, our spirits remember that only in Jesus are we truly satisfied.  We also practice “addition,” setting aside times for prayer, reflection, confession, and serving.

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 begin with Ash Wednesday.  At the very outset, our self-improvement plans get a reality check.  On this day, we recall that we are dust.  We recall that we are frail, finite, and sinful.  At Ash Wednesday services, the foreheads of followers of Jesus are marked with an ashen sign of the cross.  Traditionally, the ash used is made from the burned Palm Sunday branches of the previous year.  With those palms, the people hailed Jesus as King and anticipated his glorious rule and powerful defeat of their enemies.  Turned to ashes, these palms remind us that when we believe we can lead the way to victory on our own terms, we always fail.  The ashen palms remind us that new beginnings are born when what is false is allowed to die.  And they remind us that the way to life Jesus modeled is through vulnerability, brokenness and ultimately death.  Jesus’ victory came through surrender and sacrifice.

Sometimes I worry that I have not done enough.  And when I do, I need to stop and rebuke that lie at its root.  Would it be better if I thought I had done enough?  No.  Both are based on the false assumption that I make myself acceptable to God.  God knows that at every step of the journey, my efforts will never be enough, yet he cheers me on and pours out his grace, each broken and faltering step of the way.  Even as I act, I can release the burden to get it right, surrender my successes and failures to him, and rest in his mercy, grace and love.

We are but dust, and as such, we are very slow learners.  If we learned more quickly, perhaps Lent could be 40 minutes rather than 40 days.  For our sake, it is not.  God created us as creatures of time and 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 about trusting in the One who has done it all for us.

 Prayer:  Lord God, as we step into this sacred time, we choose to set it apart for you.  We offer you all we choose to do and not do.  As we actively surrender to you, help us to experience the wonder of your transforming love.  In the name of the One who sacrificed all for us, we pray.  Amen.

Submitted by Pastor Carla Olsen Draper