Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The season of Lent in many ways shows how the Church calendar and the secular calendar diverges. Often the patterns of the world mirror those of the Church year so that one might be hard pressed to notice that the two operate separate calendars. Many will celebrate Christmas, giving and receiving gifts without in any way celebrating the birth of Christ; the season of Advent is a time for office parties, minced pies, mulled wine, shopping, and getting together with friends and family, without it in any way a looking back to the time when the Second person of the Holy Trinity came into the world or of preparing themselves for when he will come again to judge the living and the dead. 

Easter Sunday itself is a time for chocolate eggs and not a time for glorying in our Saviour's walking free from the tomb and rejoicing in the fact that his resurrection from the dead makes certain our own hope that we too also will be part of the resurrection of all those who have died at the end of the ages. For them Sunday is a day of rest, if they chose to make it so, without in any way being the Lord's Day. Even some Saint's and other festivals are included in the secular calendar in some way: St Patrick's day is a national party day, often extending beyond one day; the Eve of the feast of St John is bonfire night; and, of course, Shrove Tuesday in pancake Tuesday, the day when many will eat pancakes, in accordance with the tradition that all rich foods were to be used up before Lent began, even though they have no intention of observing Lent in any way and may only be aware in the vaguest way that Lent is about to begin or what it entails.

But Lent is different from all the rest. There is no way for secular society to mirror it or subsume it into its calender in some way. Lent is a season that demonstrates that Christians truly are in the world but not of it, if they take their faith seriously that is. Lent is the time when we look back to our Lord's 40 days in the desert, his time of intense prayer and fasting, and try to imitate ourselves in our own poor way as we journey with him to Jerusalem, to the place where he was to suffer and die that we might be saved from our sins.

Our Gospel reading today spoke of the three traditional disciplines of Lent: prayer, alms-giving, and fasting. You will note that as our Lord spoke of them he did not speak of them as being something optional for his disciples: when you pray, when you fast, when you give alms he said – when not if. They are mandated by our Lord as part of every Christian life. And not, incidentally during Lent only, but all through the year. It should go without saying that prayer, helping others, and leading a life of self-denial is a fundamental part of Christian living. Lent is simply a time when we practice then with extra vigour, to help prepare ourselves for Easter, to willing journey with our Lord to Jerusalem over the course of the next 40 days, even as he willing journeyed there for us all those years ago.

I will end by saying this. Lent is a penitential season but it is not a gloomy one. How could it be? Did he not tell us not to be dismal when we are fasting? Did he not tell us that by obeying him we are laying up treasures in heaven? Yes we think of our Lord's passion and death at this time; but we also look beyond it to his resurrection. Therefore we should not look on the disciplines of the season as some kind of a burden, but a privilege; for Christ calls us now to walk with him, to strive even harder to imitate him. What a joy it should be to all who call themselves Christians to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. And so I call on you all to be joyful during these next several weeks, even as I urge you enter fully into the spirit of this season, making it a time of joyful spiritual renewal that will, with God's grace, help you achieve your true purpose in this life and pass at the last from this life to eternal life in heaven. Amen

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