Celebrate Lent, Celebrate Life

March 1, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:1-2,12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

(Gospel Text provided below)

In a few minutes, as part of this Ash Wednesday liturgy, I will extend an Invitation to the observance of a Holy Lent. This invitation says in part:

I invite you… to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

ashwednesday-251x300We’ll then say a prayer of preparation, remembering that we have been created out of the dust of the earth. We’ll ask that the ashes placed on our foreheads be a sign of our mortality and penitence. This is often the focal point on this solemn day. A day we are called to begin a season of introspection, repentance, and self-denial.

Yet, I want to point out that in that prayer there is one additional component…

… that we may remember that it is only by [God’s] gracious gift that we are given everlasting life…

I believe that the remembrance of this gracious gift is also an integral part of the day. Today’s gospel passage from Matthew calls us to lean into this gracious gift. It invites us to embrace the special connection we each have with God, and amplifies the realization that everything we have and who we are is GIFT.   

When we give alms, we aren’t to take personal credit for it, which in turn glorifies ourselves. Instead, when we bring alms, we are told to do so humbly, and in thanks for all God gives us. Our circumstance of birth, in this time and place, has afforded each of us much. give-pray-fastEven the least of us has more than so many around the world. So, we are called to be thankful, and to give them freely and discreetly to God, thereby glorifying God.

And when we fast, we aren’t to make a big show of it, like it’s a hardship. Instead, be thankful we have a choice about what, when and where we eat. Give thanks for the assurance that we have food in our cupboard, available to us when the fast is over.

When we pray, don’t make a big display for others to see, but go quietly into a room and shut the door and have some one-on-one time with God. Just 5 or 10 minutes of quiet time and reflection with God each day can do wonders in helping us face those unexpected events that arise.

At the imposition of the ashes, I’ll say “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This phrase reminds each of us that our time on this earth, in this time/space continuum, is limited. What we do with the time we have matters. So, instead of simply thinking of our mortality, our dustiness, when we receive these ashes, perhaps we can embrace that ashes are also evidence of FIRE. A fire that is our purpose – God’s purpose – for our life.

burning-desire-wavesLent is an intentional time to get connected with that Fire of Purpose! To turn toward God, again and again, to seek what God would have us do – individually and collectively. We have been given the gracious gift of God’s love, and Jesus’ teaching and example to follow. When we live into this, we begin right then and there to live into the everlasting life promised. We begin to bring the kingdom of God near to us and to those around us.

So, starting today, when you see or hear that phrase “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” I invite you to shift your attention away from the two phrases on either side, and instead, lean into the “comma” that separates the beginning and the end. Let this comma represent the life you create – the purpose you live into.

It brings to mind a familiar poem often used in memory of loved ones who have died. The poem is entitled “The Dash” by Linda Ellis. If you haven’t heard it, the dash in the poem is that little line we see on tombstones between the date of birth and date of death. The poem speaks to all that little dash holds within it, known only to the person now gone and those with whom they shared their life.

Due to copyright laws, and the request of the author, I may only provide a link, and not republish: linda-ellis.com/the-dash-the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis-

So, Ash Wednesday isn’t merely a day to remember our mortal nature, though that is surely part of it, it’s also a day to celebrate the divine gift given freely and generously by God. God loves us and sustains us between our time of being created out of dust, and our time of being returned to dust.

keep-a-holy-lentIt is a gift to cherish.

A responsibility to embrace.

And a season to celebrate.

May you have a Holy and Purpose-filled Lent.

lent_wordle

 

 

Gospel Text:

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:1-6,16-21)

 

 

[i] Copyright 1996 Linda Ellis, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This copyrighted material may not be reproduced, reposted or distributed.  Please feel free to RECITE it anywhere at any time. If you’d like to share it on your web site, please use a link to this page…do not copy. Link to poem: http://www.linda-ellis.com/the-dash-the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis-.html

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