Ash Wednesday: February 14, 2018
The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
Today is Ash Wednesday — a day when we remember the frail and flawed aspects of our lives, a day when we embark on Lent, the ultimate penitential season… it seems odd to hear Isaiah’s images of light rising in the darkness and gloom being like the noonday. When we think of Lent, we don’t often think of words of hope and renewal about God’s continual guidance satisfying our needs in the parched places, we don’t imagine ourselves as well-watered gardens and ever-flowing springs that never fail.
Shouldn’t we be thinking of the next forty days as our long arduous struggle with our temptations in the wilderness? Isn’t this the time of year for extreme deprivation and perseverance in the parched places. Isn’t this a time to be sober, somber, and serious about sin. Maybe…
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that Lent is not about being overly serious or ashamed. This is a time to get serious about our spiritual growth–a time for us to examine ourselves, to serve others, to focus on our spiritual exercises.
The prophet Isaiah is speaking to the Israelites who had returned from their long exile in Babylon. Having spent decades, generations apart from those in Judea, the remnant of Israel returns to find their identity, their spiritual beliefs, their home had changed. The people found themselves divided by different values and priorities. The Israelites learned that return does not mean things go back to the way they always were. Return does not mean immediate joy, peace, and prosperity. Isaiah reminds them that it takes work to find oneness and healing and wholeness as a people and a nation. And so the Israelites had to enter a period of self-examination, service to one another, and spiritual growth.
Like the exiles returning home, we too find ourselves struggling for healing, wholeness and holiness in our lives, in our families, and in our world. We too find ourselves divided by our different values and priorities and life experiences and desiring oneness.
Over the next forty days, Isaiah calls us on a journey of reflection, reconciliation, renewal. A time to read, reflect, and remember God as the source of life in our lives. The Lenten season invites us to take a long, searching honest look at how free we really are — to become more aware of the desires that entangle us, to move towards greater freedom by detaching ourselves from selfish desires and opening ourselves to God’s desires for oneness.
Wearing the ashes in the sign of the cross we are reminded of what the goal of Lent is about. The vertical line represents the human aim to find oneness with God. The horizontal line represents the human aim to find oneness with each other. When we place these lines together, they become the cross, a sign of God’s power to redirect, reconcile, renew. A sign that we are moving towards oneness with God and others. When we connect these movements in our lives, we connect our lives to the life of Jesus who came to dwell as God among us, who taught us to love one another as God loves us, who walked through hardship, suffering and death on the cross to show us the love and life and freedom that lies beyond.
The cross reminds us that our lives are like an ever-flowing spring…“we are constantly moving towards God or away from God. Our petty wants move us away. Our focused desire to be One moves us toward God. And on this life journey we each have times when we are just too busy and don’t make the time to grow; we each have times when we do and say all the right things, but don’t face what is really hindering us; we each have times of equilibrium, when we can cast off our wants, knowing true fulfillment, true oneness, true growth lies beyond them.” (Lisa Kelly)
Chinese Taoist master Lao Tzu says:
“The best people are like water,
They benefit all things and do not compete.
They settle in the low places,
One with nature, one with God.”
As we embark on our walk of wholeness and holiness this Lenten season, may our lives flow towards deeper oneness with God and all things. Amen.