In recent months we have moved from the waiting of Advent, on to the joy of Christmas-tide, and soon will undertake the journey of Lent. Ash Wednesday, March 9th, marks the beginning of the season. In Old Testament times dusting one’s self with ashes was a mark of penitence, of expressing sorrow for sins and short-comings. Our friends in the Roman Catholic tradition often give up something for the period of Lent – fasting as a sign of discipline, sharing in Christ’s suffering, and repentance. As a child (even ‘though not Catholic) I routinely said I had given up lima beans – I abhorred lima beans! I don’t think this is the kind of repentance God had in mind…
Early last month I had the privilege of reading scripture in worship; one of the passages came from Isaiah, chapter 58. I think Isaiah had the right idea about Lent, although clearly he had no concept of this liturgical season. The people had been complaining to God – through Isaiah – asking why it was that when they fasted and humbled themselves, God failed to notice. God replied “Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” God wishes instead, that we reach out and build relationship with the poor, the hungry, the oppressed around us, because in doing so we are indeed building relationship with God.
As Lent begins we are called to a journey inward, one in which we meet and then confront all in our life that separates us from God. One writer on a sermon help web site proposes that in Lent we focus on this one question: How is it with you and God? He encourages us not to be giving something up for Lent, rather to take something on for Lent. In a quiet moment each day ask, How is it between you and me God?
Years ago a Pastor introduced me to Psalm 51 as the Ash Wednesday psalm. The psalm contains a nugget of prayer with which we are all familiar, this from Psalms for Praying: Create in me a clean heart, O Gracious One, and put a new and right spirit within me. Enfold me in the arms of Love, and fill me with your Holy Spirit. Restore in me your saving grace, and encourage me with a new spirit. In this short excerpt from the psalm we learn that forgiveness of sins brings about new life – a new creation; God’s love extends that forgiveness to us, filling us anew. And we learn that there is no authentic life until we are reconciled to God.
For the duration of our forty days of journey and discovery, I would invite you to join me in asking daily, How is it between you and me God? Perhaps you could begin a short prayer time each day with these words, and then see what transpires.