In just a few minutes, Father Keith will stand before us, and on behalf of the Church, he will invite us to the observance of a holy Lent. Through self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Word, each of us is invited to make this season holy, that is to say, we are called to set these next 40 days apart for God. Many will attempt to make this season holy by taking seriously the appeal to self-denial and fasting. Perhaps you are planning to give up candy, or maybe alcohol. Some give up caffeine, others will give up meat, and still others will log off of Facebook for this season. These are good and noble practices, and I applaud everyone who will remove something from their lives in this season, especially those courageous enough to give up caffeine. I can’t imagine life without my beloved coffee.
Some of you have done the whole “giving stuff up for Lent” thing and are over it by now. Maybe you can’t think of anything to give up, so you’ve decided to take on a spiritual practice this year. Many of you have already picked up a Lenten Devotional booklet. Some have decided to learn more about the Saints through Lent Madness. Maybe you are planning to pray the Daily Office, show up on Sunday with more regularity, or, as the invitation to a holy Lent says, perhaps you will read and meditate on the Bible every day. These too are good and noble practices, and I applaud everyone who will add something to their lives in this season.
I suspect the least popular option for the Lent 2013; will be the admonition to self-examination and repentance. Most of us don’t like that sort of thing, it is unseemly to think too long on our own sinfulness, so we worry instead about the sins of our friends and neighbors. Still, a very small minority will take seriously the call to repentance. One or two of you might even decide to engage in the rarely used form called “The Reconciliation of a Penitent” commonly referred to as “Private Confession,” which, believe or not is in our Prayer Book beginning on page 447. This is a good and noble practice and I not only applaud anyone who engages it, but I commend it to you as something always available should you feel led to seek it out.
Whichever path you choose on your way toward a holy Lent, I hope that you will keep in mind that the goal of this season isn’t a short-term inconvenience on behalf of God, but instead a whole-life change. The reason we give up chocolate isn’t to lose weight, and the reason we come to church isn’t to get our card punched to heaven, and the reason we confess our sins isn’t to clear our consciences, but rather, we do these things, as Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, “to be reconciled to God.”
Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation. We are invited in this season of Lent to turn our lives around: to stop thinking of ourselves first, to stop seeking after our own gain, to stop making excuses and to live for God, to work together with him for the up-building of his Kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven. Because of our broken humanity, that restoration work is accomplished in fits and starts. We take on tasks and fall short. We give up things only to pick them right back again. We are forgiven again and again, and yet we forget to forgive others in the same way.
So today we gather and in our liturgy we live out all three ways of seeking after a holy Lent. We’ve given up Communion today; choosing instead to hold off until Sunday, the first mini-Easter of this season, so that for the next four days we all might hunger after the Feast of Reconciliation in Christ’s Body and Blood. We’ll take on the practice of the Imposition of Ashes; a reminder of our mortality and the need for repentance. Together, we’ll confess ours sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. We join this Ash Wednesday with the whole body of Christ, his faithful disciples around the globe in living out the call to a holy Lent in order that we might be a part of his reconciling work of redemption and salvation.
Now is the acceptable time, my friends. Today is the day of salvation. May God the Father bless us: May God the Son redeem us: and May God the Holy Spirit strengthen us as we set this time apart as holy and engage in God’s redeeming work. Amen.