An Acceptable Time, An Acceptable Fast
Ash Wednesday, 2007
It is Ash Wednesday – the gateway for yet another 40-day Lenten journey toward Easter. We hear again the words as familiar as their outward-and-visible signs etched on our foreheads: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” On this Ash Wednesday, as the liturgical season shifts from Epiphany to Lent, we are called to make a shift, too. During these weeks since Christmas our lessons have focused on the “epiphanies” of those who encountered Jesus along the way and knew somehow, at some point, in some perhaps indescribable way, that they had experienced the holy
And now our focus shifts, as it does every year at this time, from stories about those outward manifestations of God's presence among us to a more interior place as we journey with Jesus on the road we know leads to Golgotha – to the cross – and ultimately, to the resurrection. And so, on this Ash Wednesday, here is my annual advice for the journey ahead: Let us not give up epiphanies for Lent.
Let us not become so inwardly focused that we forget to notice – to give thanks for – to respond to – those encounters we can and will have with the holy in the next 40 days. Let us not become so focused on our own “journey with Jesus” that we forget that as long as there are still strangers at the gate, walking humbly with our God is not enough: let us not forget that we are also called to do justice. Let us do an even bolder and more prophetic job of claiming “justice doing” as essential to our identity as Christian people – as Lenten pilgrims. Let us, by all means, pray silently to our Father who is in secret, but let us at the same time proclaim loudly to those who would dismiss our activism as “agenda driven” that our agenda is a GOSPEL agenda: that our call to act with compassion, to reach out with pastoral care, do justice is rooted deep in the roots of our history as a people of God – in these words of the prophet Isaiah:
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say,
Here I am.
“Here I am,” our God promises – ready to lead us through whatever wilderness we face: to accompany us wherever the journey goes. On this Ash Wednesday 2007, I wonder if part of the wilderness we are being called into is labeled “post-Katrina stress syndrome” as we see on this Day-After-Mardi Gras a city still laid waste by the twin disasters of a hurricane that ripped it apart and the racism that continues to tear it apart long after the waters have receded.
And I wonder if part of the wilderness we are being called into is labeled “The Iraqi Surge” as an administration prepares to sacrifice yet more Iraqi and American lives in its quest for a military solution to an increasingly un-winnable war.
And I wonder if part of the wilderness we are being called into is labeled “Anglican Politics” as the Right Wing of the Episcopal Church comes every closer to achieving the schism they have been working to pull off here in the American Church while the Anglican Primates issue a Communiqué that paints the American Episcopal Church into a corner where it is faced with the “Sophie’s Choice” of choosing the inclusive Gospel over inclusion in the Anglican Communion.
These are the wildernesses that make up the landscape of our Lent. If we are to choose the fast Isaiah offers us this Lent, we must continue to undo the thongs of the yoke of racism that holds this country and this church in its grasp. If we are to be a people who have bread to share with the hungry we must challenge those who would spend all our resources on arms for an immoral war that continues to kill Iraqi citizens and take American lives. If we are to serve the God whose fast is “to let the oppressed go free” we must speak out when gay and lesbian families are in danger of becoming sacrificial lambs on the altar of church politics.
Now IS the acceptable time. May the God who calls each of us into this wilderness be with us and bless us on our individual Lenten journeys. May the Risen Lord inspire His church to follow in His footsteps and resist the temptations before it: to resist compromising our call to compassion, pastoral care and justice for the whole human family. And may the Holy Spirit give us the grace to recognize the difference between a fast acceptable to the Primates and a fast acceptable to God.