1. Desmond Tutu from In God’s Hands
And humans were given dominion over all creation. That is why we were created to be God’s viceroys, to be God’s stand ins. We should love, we should bear rule over the rest of creation as God would. We are meant to be caring in how we deal with the rest of God’s creation. God wants everything to flourish. It gives us a huge responsibility – that we should not ravish and waste the natural resources which God places at our disposal for our wellbeing.
2. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
Clarence Jorden of the Koinonia Movement many years ago wrote this: Jesus founded the most revolutionary movement in human history, a movement built on the unconditional love of God for the world, and the mandate to those who follow to live that love.
The season of Lent is upon us. It is a season of making a renewed commitment to participate and be a part of the movement of Jesus in this world. You can see some of that in the Gospel lesson for the first Sunday of Lent where Luke says that after the Baptism of Jesus he went into the wilderness, there to be tempted of Satan.
After the Baptism. Baptism is the sacrament of commitment to the Jesus Movement. It is to be washed, if you will, in the love and the reality of God, and to emerge from that great washing as one whose life is dedicated to living that love in the world.
In this season of Lent, we take some time to focus on what that means for our lives, whether it is as simple as giving up chocolate candy or as profound as taking on a commitment to serve the poor or to serve others in some new way. Whatever it is, let that something be something that helps you participate in the movement of God’s love in this world following in the footsteps of Jesus.
And the truth is, the fact that Jesus was baptized and began that movement in the world and immediately found himself tempted by the devil is an ever-present reminder that this movement is not without struggle. It is not easy. The truth is, this movement is difficult. It’s hard work. It’s work of following Jesus to the cross. And it’s work of following Jesus through the cross to the Resurrection. To new life. And new possibility. That is our calling. That is the work of the movement. To help this world move from what is often the nightmare of the world itself into the dream that God intends.
So I pray that this Lent, as they used to say many years ago, might be the first day of the rest of your life. It might be a new day for this world.
3. Pope Francis
God’s people, then, need this interior renewal, lest we become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves. To further this renewal, I would like to propose for our reflection three biblical texts.
1. “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26) – The Church
2. “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9) – Parishes and Communities
3. “Make your hearts firm!” (James 5:8) – Individual Christians
First, we can pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven. Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer! The 24 Hours for the Lord initiative, which I hope will be observed on 13-14 March throughout the Church, also at the diocesan level, is meant to be a sign of this need for prayer.
Second, we can help by acts of charity, reaching out to both those near and far through the Church’s many charitable organizations. Lent is a favourable time for showing this concern for others by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family.
Third, the suffering of others is a call to conversion, since their need reminds me of the uncertainty of my own life and my dependence on God and my brothers and sisters. If we humbly implore God’s grace and accept our own limitations, we will trust in the infinite possibilities which God’s love holds out to us. We will also be able to resist the diabolical temptation of thinking that by our own efforts we can save the world and ourselves.
Lent is the season to spend some time on this part of the journey through the friable sand, asking God to help us clean up the areas in our lives where trash has built up…
So on this snowy Ash Wednesday take an imaginary summer walk across the sand to the ocean and lay out your own path through this season of Lent.
Returning to the Sacred Presence
"One of the greatest theologians the world has ever known, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), wrote about his prolonged, drawn-out search for God and the revelation he finally had that God had been with him all along:
"I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new! I have learnt to love you late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself. I searched for you outside myself…. You were with me, but I was not with you."
Confessions, Book X.27, St. Augustine
"Waking to the reality of this very present Eternal Life, this "Beauty ever ancient, ever new," is a transforming experience. This life-giving Presence is always with us and within us. The problem, of course, is that we are often distracted by many cares and occupations that keep us far away from God and from ourselves. It is as if we spend much of our lives wandering "in a land that is waste," while God constantly calls to us to return–to ourselves, to our true life in God.
"The forty days of Lent serve as a time for Christians to return to the Sacred Presence, to the God who has never left us, even though at times we have been far away. Lent is a time to renew classic disciplines of prayer and reflection, as well as ancient practices such as fasting and Bible study. All of this is designed to renew a right spirit within us and to prepare us for the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection at Easter."
‐The Rev. Gary Jones, St. Stephens, Richmond
A Lenten Reflection
As we begin the 40-day Lenten journey it is traditional to give up something during this penitential season, to fast from some thing or some behavior in our lives. As you contemplate your own Lenten discipline, here is a reflection adapted from: We Dare to Say: Praying for Justice and Peace, eds. Sylvia Skrepichuk & Michel Cote, Novalis.
Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on difference; feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on divine order.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressure; feast on unceasing prayers.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from laziness; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that sustains life.
For your Father who sees the good you do in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:4)
Lent is Weird, a Little Sad and Oddly Beautiful
Lent is a weird thing. In the Church we take this time to prepare ourselves for Holy Week and Easter, and its forty-day duration reflects the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness. In many ways this is our time to be in the wilderness as well. On Ash Wednesday we will spread ashes on our heads and be reminded of our mortality. The music during this season will be muted and not have the joy that is typical of our worship, and we are forbidden from saying “Alleluia”. We also have the informal tradition of giving up nasty habits during Lent, or sometimes even adding various disciplines with the idea that these habits will draw us closer to God.
Some of these rituals and customs are somewhat strange, especially giving up stuff for Lent, but for me I am amazed at the amount of people, especially people who don’t go to Church, that are fascinated by this season. Ash Wednesday is arguably the most depressing day of the Church year. The purpose of the service is to openly remind people that one day they will die, which contrasts the hope of the resurrection that we see on Easter Day. A lot of people come out of the woodwork for Easter for obvious reasons, but you would be surprised how many people who do not claim to be Christians that go to get the ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday. Even my atheist friends in the past had a lot of questions about Lent and one even came up with his own Lenten disciplines despite his general skepticism of organized religion. There is something special about this season, something that goes against the grain of society that appeals to people.
In many ways our culture is constantly trying to live in a manufactured false state of Easter. Of course we want to be happy all of the time and we wish our youth would last forever, but we are unique in history as actually having the resources to live into these delusions. Entire industries have popped up promising to keep us young, healthy and happy, but even these efforts will ultimately fail, and no one seems to be talking about this difficult truth. This is where Ash Wednesday enters into our world, and it is what draws people into Church to receive their ashes. Ash Wednesday is unapologetically melancholy and honest when it comes to the reality that we cannot always be happy, and that our days of health of youth will one day end. Yes, we rejoice in the hope of the resurrection, but Christ wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and we should not ignore the sadness that we feel when confronted with our mortality, and we should not think that coming to God with sadness is any less holy than praising God with joyful Alleluias.
Ash Wednesday is a phenomenon in the Episcopal Church. It seems to go counter to everything that we think people want, to constantly live in a joyful state of Easter, but priests stand on street corners in urban areas with ashes and scores of un-churched, or under-churched are compelled to hear the words, “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent is weird, a little sad and oddly beautiful. It tells us something we spend most of our time avoiding, and without the sadness that Ash Wednesday, Easter means nothing. Lent invites us to be whole, to be able to face the good and the sad knowing that God walks with us. Blessings, Fr. Nick
Lent Prepares Us for the Wilderness
In the beginning of this season I told you that I don’t really understand the whole giving up stuff for Lent. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all, and many times it can be a helpful way to change our lives, but other times it becomes more about self-improvement than throwing ourselves into the wilderness, shaking up our lives and finding God in the most unlikely of places. During Lent it is our custom to choose what we give up. We maintain control of how far we are going to push ourselves, we choose our path and make our own wilderness. There is nothing terrible about this. I do it too. I have my two Lenten disciplines that I carefully chose, and I have been challenged in all of the ways that I expected. But, what happens when something is taken from us, for good or ill? True wilderness happens unexpectedly, it is disorienting, challenging, and calls into questions things we thought we knew about the world and about God, and in these moments we can find ourselves in Lent regardless of the season.
The status quo is comfortable. Even if it is killing us, or tearing away our humanity we cling to it, because it gives us a sense of stability and control. We can see this plainly in Exodus. As children we are told the story of Moses leading the enslaved Jews from Egypt to the Promised Land. We hear the stories of God’s miracles that freed the Jews from their bondage. Go back and read the story again. Many of the Jews weren’t necessarily asking for this freedom. Once in the wilderness they were quick to turn on Moses accusing him of leading them to die. They missed their stability, food and homes. They were driven into the wilderness against their will just as much as they were freed from slavery. They were quick to turn on God as well. Even after witnessing the power of God and knowing God was invested in their lives they worshiped their golden calf as Moses was receiving the commandments. They could not understand what God had in store for them, and all they could feel was loss. This is what being in the wilderness feels like. Even if we cannot understand, choose not to understand, or can only feel sad for what we have left behind, it does not mean that God has given up on us.
The most traumatic event of my childhood was moving from Michigan to Georgia when I was twelve years old. In Michigan my life revolved around my friends. I could ride my bike anywhere and I was always just few minutes from people who knew me and wanted to spend time with me. I did not choose to move. It was something that happened to me, and I could not have felt more lost. I lost my friends, I was acutely aware that I was different than everyone else in my new town, and our new house did not feel like home. I felt like a stranger living in a foreign land. I could not see that this move would shape my life for the best. I could not see that this traumatic event would shape my personality, my opportunities and make me who I am today. I was lost and depressed as a child, but that did not mean that God had abandoned me. Even though it hurt it was path that God was leading me down. When the things or even the people that we love, that give us security and identity, are taken from us we can find ourselves in the wilderness. We can feel abandoned by God and nostalgic for the past, but we can also feel hope for the future. Lent is less about self-improvement and giving things up that we ought not to do, and it is more about reminding ourselves that one day our lives will be shaken up, we will feel sad and lost, but we can feel that loss while trusting in God. Blessings, Fr. Nick