The season of Lent began yesterday, did you make it to one of our local Lutheran churches who did “Ashes on the Go” for your Ash Wednesday? Or did you find a time in your home or workspace to remember the day? Or did the day move past you in the usual fashion, and perhaps now you are feeling a twinge of regret for missing it, as I mention it?
I always will remember one Ash Wednesday when I was living and working in San Francisco. I had attended Grace Cathedral for a mid-day Ash Wednesday service, and as I rode on the public bus back to my apartment the black ashen cross was starkly visible on my forehead. Most of the folks on that bus were dressed professionally, with briefcases and shiny shoes or dreadlocks and black combat boots, rushing back from lunch in one place to work in a different place. The air reeked of impatience and suspicion, as the bus jerked and bumped along the street lined with the tall buildings beside and concrete beneath us. As I rode near the back, standing and holding onto the silver bar as the sunlight streamed through the windows, heads turned as a man standing in the front crudely asked me, “What’s that on your face?” I had to give an “elevator speech” about Ash Wednesday right there! On that busy city bus, I felt that I might have been the only Christian pausing for remembering that life is not perfect, I am not perfect, and Jesus endured much pain on our behalf, so that even in our brokenness and imperfection we might find peace with God. As Lent begins again this year, how will you allow time to acknowledge it, this season where we remember what Jesus endured on the way to the cross and his death, even as we wait and anticipate the celebration of his resurrection at Easter?
In his book, Sabbath, Wayne Muller writes,
Perhaps the pandemic has already slowed your pace and you are finding that Sabbath energy and pause more regularly. If so, are you doing it willingly? Part of me is still unhappy for withdrawing from the group activities that my family gave up early in the pandemic, even as I know it would be harder yet to resume them and add more back into our days. Are you able to allow that unscheduled time without guilt? To schedule a spiritual practice that makes sense to you, instead? Are you already feeling less internal dislike of the restrictions that slow you and give you that time to pause? Is the invitation familiar, that Holy Spirit’s whisper that invites you to focus less on the world and its pushing for productivity, financial gain, fame, and respect? Are you aware of the way God uniquely invites you set aside time to focus on Jesus, on connecting to God with each breath you draw in, for the sometimes counter-cultural practices of kindness, generosity, and compassion for yourself and for others quite different from you? Sometimes pausing and listening to the Spirit leaves us feeling like the odd one standing there with the cross on our faces that the world does not understand or welcome. This is one invitation of Lent, to feel this, and take time to reflect on the meaning of it, for ourselves and for the world.
Jesus said this, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you.” Jesus goes on to say about the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, “I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no more; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.” (John 15:18-19; 16:7-11)
During the next forty days as you move through this season of Lent, if you do pause, if you allow time for your spiritual practice, you will join Christians around the world who also are stopping, taking time to reflect on Jesus and to remember. Try to catch yourself if you are feeling rushed and impatient, needing those choices, moving towards worldly goals, and take a relaxed breath instead. Remember that you are loved, and that the Spirit is with you just as you are. The pandemic continues as this Lent of 2021 begins and we might not be able to attend weekly soup suppers and worship at church, but we may still allow time in our day or our week. Whatever you might choose as your Lenten practice, know that there is invitation to stop, to pray, to listen to God’s voice in scripture and from deep in your own soul, and to feel loved as God’s grace reaches you!
Let us pray...
Guide us as we begin Lent this year, and help us to see where we can allow time to connect with you. Thank you for sending us your Spirit to help us, and strengthen us as we follow you in this complicated world.