Ash Wednesday February 26, 2020

The Rev. Janet Campbell


Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103:1-2, 8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10;

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21


Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Rev. Janet Campbell




What we do today,

this day of penitence and ashes,

we do, not out of some

grim sense of duty,

but out of love . . .


love for God,

love for one another,

love for the self

God made us to be,

the self we are becoming,

but have betrayed

in a myriad of ways

since last Ash Wednesday . . .


We come to this place

of God’s presence

where it is safe

to tell the truth

to each other,

with each other . . .



safe to set aside

our self-deceptions



about ourselves

and about God,

in Ash Wednesday’s

daring truth-seeing

and truth-telling.



We do this not for the hollow reward

of being praised or admired,

seen to be pious and devout,


but for the reward

of deepening relationship

with God

and each other.


So let us see

and tell the truth.


About ourselves,

the truth

that despite our best efforts,

we have sinned:


we have said and done things

that have distanced us

from God and

from one another . . .



To bridge

the widening gulf,

we need

God’s mercy

and forgiveness.



About God,

the truth

that on this day

and every day,

God responds with compassion . . .


No matter how far

we may have

distanced ourselves from God,

God has never been,

and will never be,

distant from us.


God comes to us

not with harsh judgment

but with the love and mercy

and forgiveness we need

to forgive ourselves

and one another

and be reconciled.




Kneeling under God’s gaze of

profound love

we acknowledge,

in community and communion,

that we have sinned,

and do sin,

and will sin,


and that – still – even so –

we are God’s beloved

and can never fall out

of God’s love.



God waits for this day

not in judgment

and condemnation

but with anticipation

and rejoicing . . .



our acknowledgement

of our weakness

makes room in us

for God’s strength,


our acknowledgement

of our sins

makes room in us

for God’s grace,


our acknowledgement

of our need for forgiveness

makes room in us for God’s mercy.

Making room for God,

we can begin again.


The ashes we will receive

on our foreheads

are a sign for us

of the truth we are telling,


a sign of

sorrow for our sins,

a sign of repentance


trust in the God

we have come to know in Christ,


a sign that we are all in this




Last night during our Mardi Gras party,

we gathered in the courtyard

in the beautiful dark night

to make a fire . . .


a fire that reminded us of another fire

we will make some 40 days from now . . .


the new fire of the Easter Vigil,

fire of resurrection,

fire of new life,

fire of the old life burned away.



In last night’s fire

we burned the old dried-out palms

we received fresh and green

on Palm Sunday,

when we began last year’s

Holy Week walk toward resurrection

and new life.


Those old palms,

co-mingled and burned,

are today’s ashes:

sign of our repentance,

sign of our mortality,

sign of our dying to self

and rising to Christ . . .


And today, Ash Wednesday,

we come together,

old and dried out ourselves,

burdened by the year behind us,

burdened by

our individual sin,

our corporate sin

as church, society, nation . . .


to receive those ashes

on our foreheads.


(Some of your palms will end up today

as the ashes on somebody else’s forehead)


We come together

to give to God the awful weight

of the past year’s failures

and our part in them.


We come together

to be marked with the ashy sign of the cross

where we once were marked

with a cross of chrism,

the fragrant oil of baptism,


for today we begin Lent’s journey

toward the baptismal waters

of cleansing and rebirth.


We come  in solemn procession,

a solemn procession

going on all around the world

today and tonight,


the whole Church making ourselves ready

for Easter renewal.


At God’s table,

we dine on God’s forgiveness,

drink in God’s mercy,


so that our emptiness

might be filled with Christ


we might live no longer for ourselves alone

but for Christ

and for one another

and for all God’s creation.

Yes, we come today

to admit

that we have sinned,

and in the Litany of Penitence,

to name all the ways we can possibly think of.


But we have also come

to proclaim

that sin’s power to hold us in thrall

has been broken once for all

by the dying and rising of Christ.


And so, with truth-telling and ashes,

Lent begins,


our season of self-examination and repentance,

our season of intentionality and simplicity,

our season of turning toward God,

and re-turning

to the disciplines and practices that shape us,

grow us,

in the Christian faith and life . . .

The disciplines and practices

of prayer, study, fasting, alms-giving,

and worship in community,

for this is a communal journey

we undertake.


We need each other on this journey.




We do not enter into Lent

to seek God’s approval,

to make God like us better . . .

God could not love us more

than God already does.


We do not engage

in our disciplines and practices

as a method of self-improvement,

or to seek the approval

or admiration of others.


What we are about

in these disciplines and practices

is cultivating the willingness

to let go of our false imaginings

of who we are

that we may become

who God is calling us to be . . .

that we may grow more deeply

in our relationship with God

by loving more deeply the world God loves,


living the kind of fast

God calls for

through the prophet Isaiah:


“to loose the bonds of injustice . . .

to let the oppressed go free . . .

to share our bread with the hungry . . .

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.”



What we are about in these practices

is to remember what is our true treasure . . .


Life . . .


Life in God’s creation . . .


And Christ incorporating us into his life

of self-offering, self-sacrifice

for the life of the world,


Christ loving and serving us

that we might love and serve,

on his behalf,

those who are most vulnerable among us

in our community,

in the world.


And so,

we are come again to Lent,

the church’s springtime,

the church’s blossoming into new life,

coinciding, in the northern hemisphere,

with the renewal of nature:

the warming of the soil,

the flowering of plants and trees,

the return of birdsong,

and the growing of the light . . .


and here in the Pacific Northwest

the incessant spring rains,

harbinger of new life

and watery reminder of our baptism.


The springtime of the Church,

the season of quiet joy and


for the great feast of Easter:

the celebration of new baptisms

and the renewal of our own baptism,


the season of return

to the practice of baptismal living,

that we may blossom into resurrection.


We “shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”


And so,

as the beginning of the

Eucharistic Prayer for Lent proclaims,


“We prepare with joy

for the Paschal feast

that fervent in prayer

and in works of mercy,

and renewed by God’s Word and Sacraments

we may come to the fullness of grace

which God has prepared

for those who love God.”                      [Second Proper Preface of Lent BCP p. 379]



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