It is Ash Wednesday once more – the entry point 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: experienced what have been called one of the “Ahas!” of God.
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: Do 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 God 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 do justice is rooted deep in the roots of our history as a people of God – in these words of the prophet Isaiah:
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.
“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 2008, I wonder if a wilderness we are being called into is named “Presidential Election Year,” as I count the cost of the challenge to those of us who are called to be peacemakers – justice seekers – reconcilers – as the divisive and polarizing rhetoric of the political machine continues to ramp up.
And I wonder if a wilderness we are being called into is labeled “Anglican Politics” as those bent on dividing the Episcopal Church continue to work toward the schism they are determined to pull off here in the American Church, as bigotry continues to triumph over baptism with the exclusion of the Bishop of New Hampshire from the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference and as the 30-year old commitment to listen to the experience of the gay and lesbian faithful goes unfulfilled.
And I wonder if a wilderness we are being called into is named “Interfaith Dialogue” as we continue to live into the challenges of being peacemakers and bridge-builders with our Jewish and Muslim allies committed to a just peace in the Middle East.
Yet these are just some of the “wildernesses” into which we are called this Lent.
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 threatened once again with becoming sacrificial lambs on the altar of presidential politics.
If we are to choose the fast Isaiah offers us this Lent, we must continue to undo the thongs of the yokes of racism AND sexism that continue to hold this country and this church in their grasp.
And if we are to live up to our baptismal covenant we must advocate for just immigration policies that will truly respect the dignity of every human being.
It is Ash Wednesday once more – the entry point for yet another 40-day Lenten journey toward Easter. And now IS the acceptable time. May we be given the grace to choose the fast our God calls us to choose … trusting that the One who calls us into this wilderness will be with us and bless us on the journey.