Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
As we anticipate a time of reflection during the Lenten season, we prepare our hearts for a time of reflection, repentance and a so-called “Spring Cleaning for the Soul.” We will enjoy Shrove Tuesday together as a way of indulgence and reminder of the many blessings we enjoy in abundance, and then we will move into Ash Wednesday. And on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, hundreds of millions of Christians receive ashes on their foreheads in churches all over the world.
Why ashes? Since Old Testament times, ashes have been used as a symbol of mortality. When ashes are placed on our foreheads we hear the words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” It’s a reminder that the world, that often seems so important to us at this moment is passing and we need to give more thought to what comes at the end of our earthly life, which is: eternal life.
Ashes are also a sign of our need for repentance and a heartfelt acknowledgment that we are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. To many in the modern world, the very concept of sin seems old-fashioned. Yet, sin is part of our human nature, brokenness is our human condition and we NEED Jesus. We need to repent and trust the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) will show up for us again and again.
If you intentionally hurt a good friend, whether you are religious or not, something deep inside of you tells you that you need to say you’re sorry. What’s more, whether you say it out loud to your friend, or just think it to yourself, you’ll resolve not to hurt them again. But chances are good that someday you will. And that is similar to the all-too-human cycle of sin and sorrow and sinning again.
As the Church points out, we are all sinners and we all need repentance. We all need to confess our sin and sinfulness and ask for God’s forgiveness. And as people of the resurrection, we trust and lean into God’s gift of abundant grace. Lent gives us an intentional time of the year to do just that (although our prayer is that we practice confession/repentance year-round).
The word “Lent” comes from an old English word for springtime. Think of it as a form of spring cleaning for the soul. In the early years of the Church it was confined to a few days before Easter. But by the fourth century it was extended to forty days before Easter, a period associated with the forty days and nights that Jesus spent in the desert, tempted in the wilderness, just after his baptism (Matthew 4:1-11). “Forty days before Easter” may be somewhat misleading. The Church doesn’t count Sundays among the forty days, so the period of Lent, lasting from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, actually covers 46 days. Whether 40 days or 46 days, in the great scope of things Lent is a momentary pause to rethink the fundamental purpose of our lives. But it can also be the occasion of a momentous transformation; a first step on the path, at the crossroads, of becoming the people God has called us to be. I’ll see you at the crossroads of this journey.