Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Sermon for Ash Wednesday
PattiAnn Bennett, Rector at St. Michael's and All Angels in Eureka, Montana sent the following sermon on this occasion of Ash Wednesday:
Ash Wednesday March 5, 2014
And we begin the season of Lent with the mark of ashes on our heads and go out into the night marked as Christ’s own forever...not unlike our marking at Baptism with holy oil and those very words...but with this marking we hear, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return..” We join the saints over so many generations who have gathered to do the same thing, receiving the same thing and hearing the same words and leaving with the same intent...
We confess that we have sinned against God in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved God with our whole heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
And each of our repentences will take on it’s own personal, secret form. We may choose to leave something behind, a behavior, a negative energy, a bad habit, then work at it every day on purpose for the next weeks intent to make a change. Perhaps we’ll take something on, a new discipline, something personal that has meaning and makes sense only to us.
Take something on, let something go. We fast, are particular, make a deal, a pact, a promise to do something that gets our attention, makes us uneasy, puts us out of our comfort zone, on purpose in the comfort and safety of our own home and life...
Why would anyone do that?
We do it to grow our relationship with God. We do it to deepen our prayer life. We do it to sharpen our senses and bring us to the edge of this world and the next. The practices we take on in Lent guide us through a season of intentional growth, often uncomfortable, but leading toward wholeness with God in Christ.
The Imposition of Ashes comes from the early church where sinners could only come back to the church after a period of repenting. During that period, repentents’ wore sackcloth and covered themselves with ashes...Ashes symbolize our earthiness, our mortality, our here and nowness. Ashes symbolize our commitment to the faith and to being drawn here tonight.
They symbolize the beginning of our journey through the next weeks of attempting to set ourselves right with God and our neighbor, correcting wrongs and reflecting on who we are as Christ’s own.
The word Lent means the lengthening of daylight hours...it means spring...the season when plants begin to grow after lying dormant all winter...in light of this we might think of ourselves the next few weeks as seeds that are in the dark cold ground, growing up with God’s help, sprouting, rising above and reaching for the light...
Matthew writes: whenever you give alms, you shouldn’t 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, 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, don’t look dismal but 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...in other words whatever we have decided to do is between us and God, no one else. In secret, not so the world can see and be impressed or feel sorry. But like the spring seed in the ground where only God knows how hard we’re working and what is becoming of us.
Lent is a spare season, not like Advent or Epiphany. Lent isn’t bright or loud, it is quiet and still. It casts a different light, a smaller closer light illuminating our-selves to ourselves. We become shadowy as we look within, take stock, turn around, go a different way...repent.
When I was young my family went to church this night to receive a cross of ashes on our heads. I didn’t really get what was happening, but I did get that it was important and historical. We went like millions have over the centuries, to be initiated, marked, and then, like them, expected to act differently. It happened at church, not at the store or the movie theater or the gas station but at church on holy ground amidst the mystery of God.
Ashes symbolize what’s left when it’s all over. We’re here for a little while really and it matters who we become and how we act and the way we love. We all die, so what we do with the life God has given is important and we need to remember that...So tonight, like every year for centuries, the faithful gather to be marked, reminded that who we are and what we do and how we love matters. Amen.