Ash Wednesday March 6, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

ASH WEDNESDAY

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

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

It’s not a pro forma thing

we do today,

this day of penitence and ashes,

 

not something we do

for the sake of appearance . . .

in order to be seen or praised by others.

 

If we do it to be seen or praised by others,

our reward will be . . .

being seen . . .  and, maybe, praised . . .

 

or in this secular age,

maybe viewed with some amusement

or scorn.

 

But

what we do today

is a much needed,

enacted truth-telling

about ourselves

and about God.

 

 

 

And now is the acceptable time!

Now is the day of salvation!

Now is the time to get real.

 

To lament our sins

and acknowledge our wretchedness,

as we prayed at the beginning

of the liturgy.

 

A hard word, wretchedness,

but on this day

it tells us something true

about ourselves,

as persons,

as a people . . .

 

not the whole truth

by any means,

but a part of the truth . . .

 

the part that says

I have fallen short of God’s desire for me,

we have fallen short of God’s desire for us,

and, by ourselves,

we can’t fix it.

 

 

O blessed Ash Wednesday,

O holy Lent . . .

 

how we need you.

 

You dare us

to “take our hearts

and look them in the face,

however difficult it may be,”

as British theologian and author

Dorothy Sayers once said.

 

“. . . take our hearts

and look them in the face,

however difficult it may be.”

 

 

This is the day of truth-seeing

and truth-telling,

of calling a sin a sin

and owning that sin,

of getting right-sized,

remembering our very small

and temporary place

in the vastness of God’s creation . . .

 

 

This is the day

we turn away from fruitless wanderings

and false imaginings

and back toward our God . . .

 

The day we open ourselves anew

to God’s redeeming love.

 

Dine on God’s forgiveness,

Drink in God’s mercy.

 

 

This is the day of looking each other

in the ash-marked face

and saying, “I know you . . .

you are the beloved disciple.”

 

“You struggle with sin as I do,

 

“you catch your breath

at the thought of death . . . as I do . . .

 

“you know the anguish

of seeing the world’s hurts

and feeling powerless

before them . . . as I do.”

 

 

In our beloved-ness

and in our brokenness

we walk this path together,

 

following God’s Beloved One,

following Jesus –

stumbling and falling,

and helping each other up,

stumbling and falling,

and helping each other up . . .

 

 

The paradox of this day:

in facing

the un-loveliness of our sin,

we rediscover

our loveliness in God’s eyes.

 

By telling the truth,

we let down the barriers

we have built

between ourselves and God

who is all Truth . . .

 

And the truth is

that God created us to be lovely,

and desires nothing more

than to restore us in loveliness . . .

 

that our light may break forth like the dawn,

that we may be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water,

whose waters never fail,

refreshing the earth.

For God not only forgives our sin,

but creates in us clean hearts,

renews a right Spirit within us . . .

 

frees us from the cycle of striving and despair

in which we are caught . . .

 

that we may not come around

to the next Ash Wednesday

in the same place we are now.

 

Oh, we will, no doubt,

have more sins to acknowledge then . . .

 

but with the awareness

that,

in our struggle with sin,

we are being helped,

not abandoned,

by God,

 

loved,

not rejected,

by God,

 

and that

yes,

we are,

slowly but surely,

growing in maturity

into the full stature of Christ.

 

 

In our willingness

 

to see ourselves clearly,

 

to name and take responsibility for our sin,

 

to cooperate with God’s transforming power,

 

we are being made new every day.

 

 

Ash Wednesday

teaches us the practice

of honesty and repentance and willingness

and complete reliance on God,

 

a daily practice

of lifelong growth

into the goodness of Christ.

 

Ash Wednesday

invites us every year,

“whether we need it or not.”

 

 

And let’s face it, we need it,

 

need to be restored

in that practice

of honesty and repentance and willingness

and complete reliance on God.

 

restored in that practice

that we may participate in God’s restoration

of God’s beloved human community

and God’s beloved creation.

 

And it begins with the Litany of Penitence

we will pray tonight . . .

 

a whole catalog of sins,

petition after petition,

telling the truth.

 

We pray it together . . .

because we are all in it together:

 

in the Litany of Penitence,

and in the Mystery of God’s love for us,

 

a love that never gives up on us,

 

a love wounded in Jesus

for our healing,

a love dying in Jesus

for our new birthing,

a love risen in Jesus

for our rising.

 

Last night during our Mardi Gras party,

we gathered in the courtyard

in the beautiful clear, cold, 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 last year

on Palm Sunday,

when we began our

Holy Week walk toward resurrection

and new life.

 

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 . . .

 

 

 

We come together

to give to God the awful weight

of the past year’s failures

and our part in them,

and to begin Lent’s journey

toward the baptismal waters

of cleansing and renewal.

 

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 . . .

 

to be marked on our foreheads

in the sign of the cross

where we once were marked

with chrism,

the fragrant oil of baptism.

 

At God’s table,

we will dine on God’s forgiveness,

drink in God’s mercy,

 

so that our emptiness

might be filled with Christ

and

we might live no longer for ourselves alone

but for Christ

and for one another

and for all God’s creation.

 

 

It is not a pro forma thing we do today,

this enacted truth-telling,

 

this litany of every possible sin we can think of,

 

this acknowledgment of wretchedness

in the face of the power of evil,

 

this humble asking for God’s forgiveness

and heartfelt desire to begin again,

 

this eating and drinking

the very life of Christ.

 

And it is not for us alone.

 

It is for the righting

(the making right)

of our lives,

that we may

be used by God

for the righting of the world.

 

Then, truly, I tell you,

we will have received our reward.

 

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