Welcome, dear feast of Lent
That's what the poet George Herbert wrote...
but when I was a child I hated Lent
I hated the solemn feeling of Ash Wednesday
I hated the dark purple that surrounded me in church
I hated the absence of flowers.
Dear feast? I didn't think so.
Lent was all about going dust and ashes and going without.
Not a feast at all.
That was quite different
That was a feast right enough.
Something to celebrate and always the hope that one of Daddy's pancakes would go so high it stuck to the kitchen ceiling...It did at least once.
But then I grew up and began to learn the value of a new start, something that is pretty meaningless to children, for whom each moment of life is new....
I learned that having the slate wiped clean is really something to celebrate.
That as we begin to turn over a new leaf, to flip the pancake to show its best side, we really can rejoice.
Listen to Isaiah again
“I will tell you the kind of day I want—a day to set people free. I want a day that you take the burdens from others. I want a day when you set troubled people free and you take the burdens from their shoulders. 7 I want you to share your food with the hungry. I want you to find the poor who don’t have homes and bring them into your own homes. When you see people who have no clothes, give them your clothes! Don’t hide from your relatives when they need help.”
8 If you do these things, your light will begin to shine like the light of dawn. Then your wounds will heal. Your “Goodness” will walk in front of you, and the Glory of the LORD will come following behind you.
That sounds pretty wonderful, doesn't it.
We can choose to show our best side and when we do so
We will shine like the dawn....
When we receive the ash on our foreheads, we do so with two thoughts.
One is of our mortality...the dark side of the day
You are dust and to dust you shall return
But the other.....the other is the route home for us, the way of life and light that means that none of us need fear the end
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ
Christ who is faithful to us.
Christ who does not condemn us, no matter what the evidence of our guilt,
Christ who shows us the overwhelming love of God who meets us, like a Father, when we've only just begun to make our journey home.
Be faithful to Christ
When I was burning the palms to make our ash it was an irritating and messy business
For ages they just wouldn't catch, wouldn't burn
Then they smoked and smouldered so that my hair and my clothes smelled like a kipper factory
But that's what getting rid of sin can be like
A fresh start isn't always easy
But there's no need to despair.
You see today we are given another opportunity to look at who we are and who we want to be.
To spring-clean hearts, minds and souls so that our light can break forth like the dawn
That can be difficult and painful – for it usually involves giving up things that are part of ourselves, things that we hold much closer than even the most stubborn addiction to chocolate...so it's good that we keep Lent together, as a community.
Together we can encourage and support one another – by word, by example, by prayer.
Together we can, by the grace of God, begin again to form ourselves into a community which proclaims by deeds that are louder than words that Jesus is Lord, that for us the Great Commandment of love is supreme
You see, returning to that messy, tiresome business of burning the palms, finally the warmth of a whole tinful smouldering was enough.
finally they caught fire and the flames broke forth and sprang up and in a few moments those twisted crosses had disappeared and the residue.......well, that's what we use to remind us of both sides of Lent
Of our frailty and mortality......you are dust
And of our hope in Christ......who is faithful to us
who will lead us through our own wilderness times, through the desert of repentance
who will bring us safely home
Welcome, dear feast of Lent
May it be a blessing to us all