Thoughts for Ash Wednesday

This is what I wrote for our parish email newsletter, which appeared this morning at about 7 a.m. (If you want to subscribe, just visit our website. There’s a “subscribe” box at the bottom of the page.)

I used to despise Lent. It seemed so…depressing. Who needs a big guilt trip, I thought. Now I really look forward to Lent. What changed?

As I paid more attention to Lent, I realized that it is surely calling me to turn toward God. But it’s not about self-loathing or even massive amounts of guilt. It’s about saying that we often get things wrong. God wants us to get things right, and so we are (a) forgiven and (b) invited to reorient ourselves toward God in our earthly pilgrimage.

Take Ash Wednesday, for example. Is it morbid to have someone place ashes on your forward and say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”? Not really. Ash Wednesday’s real message, if we can get past our own squeamishness at the mention of death, is this: life is short, and we are called to live it well.

Of course, to live life well according to Christian standards is not the same as to live life well according to worldly standards. Lent give us several weeks to contemplate our Christian journey. We are reminded to love others, to forgive others when we have been wronged, and to seek forgiveness from those whom we have injured. We are called to be loving in the way that God has loved us — with boundless generosity.

Above all, we reminded that it’s not about us. We have no power to save ourselves. That responsibility belongs to God, working in us by the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of Jesus Christ. If you stop and think about it, Lent is liberating. It’s not about us! The pressure is off. We don’t have to have a pile of shiny things or the right clothes or anything else in this world.

God has made each one of us in God’s own image. God’s hope for us is that we will bear the likeness of God into a world torn apart by sin and gripped by fear. We can’t do it alone, but God is right there to help us. We can’t do it alone, but we have a whole Christian community on the journey with us.

Start over! If you’ve never been to an Ash Wednesday service, join us. It’s a chance to wipe the slate clean and to begin a new journey. Isn’t that encouraging?

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