Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday, 2012

Almighty and everlasting God, which hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that be penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ.

Welcome on this day of special observance. As the Church was opened this morning for the first service of the day the air was still rich with a reminder of our Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner and you could almost hear the echo in the background of laughter and fun in the activities of our annual Mardi Gras party.

But today we do turn the page on the calendar and in the great thematic journey of our Church Year to enter the season of Lent. 40 days, more or less. A reminder of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness after his Baptism in the Jordan, as we remember the story of his confrontation with Satan and his resolve to complete his work faithfully. A reminder of the 40 years between the day when Moses brought down from Sinai the Tablets of the Law and the final entry and return of the Chosen People to the Land that had been promised them.

That our Lenten journey now in these weeks heading toward Holy Week and Good Friday and then Easter would be informed and shaped by those kinds of images.

Whether 40 days or 40 years, this is a season in which we would learn patience. Something about waiting. About a serious preparation. Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter Morning—this all isn’t something we can just casually and perhaps without much thought skip into. It’s going to take some time, some preparation.

Because the point isn’t that this story is supposed to interest us or entertain us, but that it can and will change us. And change us in deep and permanent ways. In ways that will last into eternity.

In a few moments we’ll begin the next part of the service as I will read a formal invitation to the keeping of a holy Lent. And I just want to anticipate here what I will say: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word."

It’s all important, and I know each year each one of us will travel the Lenten journey a little differently, and of course there isn’t any one pattern or template or rule that will be imposed on all of us. A matter of prayer and discernment—how we are called in this season to spend a bit of time in the wilderness.

But I would like to underline and suggest for our consideration a special attention to one part of that invitation which seems to me to be possible for all of us as a very rich and meaningful part of this season, in that final phrase, “reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

We remember that we’ve just completed actually in a much wider frame, in the whole community of English speaking Christians, the celebration last year of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. An amazing historical story, of course, and that was even the subject of our annual St. Andrew’s Lecture last fall. The story not just of the publication of the book itself, but of what happened in terms of the transformation and renewal of Christian life, generation after generation, as truly for the first time and with the simultaneous development of new technologies of printing and distribution and new media and an explosion of literacy the scriptures burst out of the confines of Church buildings and libraries and found a place in the homes and in the daily lives of Christian people of all sorts and conditions. Transformation and renewal.

And we remember just this winter and spring Phil Wainwright’s wonderful series on how the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, came to be Holy Scripture in the life of the Church. And it has been wonderful to me to see how rich our parish adult Bible Studies, the smaller groups on Wednesday and Friday mornings and the larger group on Sunday mornings, have become such a meaningful part of the life of this congregation.

“Reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” One way to launch into that might be to make use of the Daily Office lectionary for Lent, and to follow the meditations on those daily readings from the Bible as they are in our parish Meditation Booklet—which you can pick up today. And our Coffee and Conversation circles on Sunday mornings through this season will give us an opportunity to share reflections and insights that we may have as we follow these daily mediations.

What we would seek this Lent is to grow nearer to Christ, to be drawn more intimately into his presence. And that is what the heart of the Bible is all about. That the God who reveals himself to us through Holy Scripture is the one who reveals himself to us as the Word Made Flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

And so I would invite you especially in this season, to be refreshed and renewed in the presence of Christ who is the Word of the Father by reading and meditating on the words and stories, the poetry and song and devotional meditations that are at the heart of the Word that is written for us in the grace and mercy of God’s Holy Spirit. Find a time each day. Open the Book, take it up and read. Pray that God might open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts this Lent. And that by his Word we may find this time in the wilderness to be the source of light and life and rich blessing in Christ our Lord.

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