Welcome to Ash Wednesday, friends, my favorite service of the year! So often, I’m met with looks of doubt and/or surprise when I declare my affection for Ash Wednesday each year. In my interactions with others, I’ve noted that Ash Wednesday is regarded (or interpreted) as a purely sorrowful time, either because they view Lent as a season of gloom or they are really, really, really not looking forward to “giving something up” for Lent. As the lone Episcopalian in many gatherings outside of my church family and the Daughters (minus my immediate family, of course), my Lenten practices are viewed with a deal of confusion. Just yesterday, it casually came up in conversation, and the well-meaning person reminded me with concern that I was already saved by grace. She was also concerned because I shared that I don’t fast on Sundays during Lent as I celebrate the resurrection on those days – she informed me that she celebrated the resurrection everyday.
When statements like these are made to me, I know that the speaker worries that I take up Lenten practices each year because I am somehow punishing myself, or that I am living my life in fear. Neither could be further from the truth! Indeed, Ash Wednesday is a special anniversary for me, as it was the day that I both discovered the Episcopal Church and that I found a welcoming, loving community at St. Mary’s. I also (rather obviously) would have never joined the Daughters had it not been for Ash Wednesday. So what does Ash Wednesday and Lent mean to me, and how can I share it with others?
It is not a lonely time. It is a time for community, in which I gather with others to wear the ashes and remember that I await an eternity with God. That community is extending beyond our church walls this year – just look at “Ashes to Go,” “Lent Madness,” and the #ashtag that is gathering people together from all walks of life (and from all over the Internet)!
It is not a time of fear. It is a time for hope. For some, the reminder that they “are dust and to dust they shall return” seems a bit frightening, and some have described it to me as “morbid.” Look at it this way – Lent encourages each of us to live each day to its fullest, and provides us with a sense of hopeful anticipation for what is to come.
It is not a time of complete darkness. Indeed, there is light – and oh, there is so much light! It radiates from the acts of service that we do for others during this season, and reminds us that we are called to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Although it is a time of sacrifice (goodbye, processed foods that I love!), it is also a time for gain. I gain in my faith, in my understanding of others, and I even gain a better knowledge of myself as I take up added prayer practices and readings.
Today, we begin our Lenten journey together. I pray that God assists us in sharing the positive message that comes with Lent!
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, vision.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
-Prayer of St. Francis
For His Sake,