Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday: Choosing a Both/And Lent

Ash Wednesday 2013: Choosing a Both/And Lent
We have arrived at Ash Wednesday again –
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:
had experienced what a clergy colleague once 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,
I want to call us to a "both/and" Lent
with my annual advice for the journey ahead:
Don't give up epiphanies for Lent.
A both/and Lent is one
where we refuse to 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.
A both/and Lent
prevents us from succumbing to the temptation
to 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:
and reminds us that we are also called to "do justice."
A both/and Lent empowers us to
claim “justice doing”
as essential to our identity as Christian people –
as Lenten pilgrims and always.
And a both/and Lent gives us the grace
to pray silently to God
who is in secret,
and gives us grace
to proclaim loudly to the world
that our gospel call to do justice is rooted
deeply in our history as a people of God –
as we hear today in these words of the prophet Isaiah:
"Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"
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?
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.
And on this Ash Wednesday 2013,
I believe one of the wildernesses we are being called into
is labeled “gun violence”
as we continue to work with those committed
to ending the culture of violence
in our streets and in our nation.
Another is called “economic justice”
as we continue to advocate
for those on the margins
who are most vulnerable
to the changes, chances and challenges of the global economy.
And yet another is marked “equality”
as we strive to live out our baptismal promise
to equally respect the dignity of absolutely every human being,
regardless of race or gender,
sexual orientation or gender identity,
class or culture.
If we are to be a people
who have bread to share with the hungry
we must continue to challenge those
who prioritize drone warfare over child welfare.
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
continue to fall short
of the equal protection guaranteed all Americans.
And if we are to choose the fast Isaiah offers us this Lent,
we must continue to undo the thongs of the yoke of oppression
as we work for just immigration reform.
Because, my brothers and sisters,
my fellow Lenten pilgrims:
Now IS the acceptable time.

And may the God who calls us into this wilderness
be with us and bless us on the journey
with a “both/and” Lent
as we walk with Jesus
on the road we know leads to Golgotha –
to the cross –
and ultimately,
to the resurrection
and to new life.

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