I INVITE YOU, THEREFORE...
Today is one of the most important days in the life of the Christian, individually and communally, as we begin the holy and sacred season of Lent, which we will follow each day to Palm Sunday, through Holy Week, the poignancy of Maundy Thursday, the stark reality of Good Friday, and the unbridled joy of Easter Sunday.
The ritual of Ash Wednesday services lends itself to the conflicting emotions of comfort and brutal honesty - comfort in knowing that we are engaging in a task that has it's roots in our faith going way back before Christ, where the wearing of ashes was a mark of contrition; brutal honesty in that we are confronted with the reality of our own unworthiness in the presence of God, for we have, as we pray during our communion liturgy, sinned against God in thought, word, and deed - by what we have done and by what we have not done.
Ashes we use come from the burning of palms used during last year's Palm Sunday, and I can tell you preparing the ashes is a stinky mess. Stinky for obvious reasons, messy because if the right gust of wind hits while this burning is going on, one can wind up with all sorts of a mess on their hands. However, I think it's apropos in that confession and contrition are stinky and messy, for we are forced to deal with the absolute unpleasantness of sin.
THE GREAT THING, THOUGH, is that even at our stinkiest and messiest, we are people of HOPE. While observing Ash Wednesday, and Lent as a whole, would not, I believe, be labeled as 'fun', it does point us to the joy of Easter. To observe a holy Lent requires holding on to hope, for Christ's life, death, and resurrection frees us from the bonds of sin and death to a life of peace.
Ash Wednesday is also a great time to jump back into the life of the church, and a time to invite someone you know looking for a church home, for tonight we begin a transformational journey.
Allow me to close with part of the invitation that will be extended during this sacred ritual:
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
the early Christians observed with great devotion
the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection,
and it became the custom of the Church that before the Easter celebration
there should be a forty–day season of spiritual preparation.
During this season converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism.
It was also a time when persons who had committed serious sins
and had separated themselves from the community of faith
were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness,
and restored to participation in the life of the Church.
In this way the whole congregation was reminded
of the mercy and forgiveness proclaimed in the gospel of Jesus Christ
and the need we all have to renew our faith.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent:
by self–examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self–denial;
and by reading and meditating on God's Holy Word.
To make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature...
Grace and Peace, Lamar