Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday - the Beginning of Lent

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

FIRST READING - Joel 2:12-18
"Yet even now," says the Lord: "Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments."

Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, "Spare thy people, O Lord, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, `Where is their God?'"

Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.

SECOND READING - 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Brethren: We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation."

Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

GOSPEL - Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples: "Beware of practising your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

May God the Father, in his mercy, grant all of you,
like the prodigal Son,
the joy of returning home. Amen.

May Christ, our model of prayer and life,
guide you through this Lent
to true conversion of heart. Amen.

May the Spirit of wisdom and strength
sustain you in your struggle against evil,
and enable you to celebrate with Christ the victory of Easter. Amen.

May the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.

LENT begins today, ideally a subdued day on which we all go to church. During today's Mass the priest marks our foreheads with blessed ashes, saying: "Remember O man that you are dust, and to dust you will return."

These words are from the Genesis account of our creation and fall. The ceremony reminds us of the mortality and frailty of human life. Vanity and foolish pride are silenced by that terrible formula: "to dust you will return."

We're not trying to be gloomy! We are just facing facts. In her wisdom, the Church does not pretend, or let us pretend that we do not die. During Lent the Church makes us face up to the dysfunctionality of our relationship with God, and on Ash Wednesday she forces us to come to terms with the fact of our mortality . . . that one day we will die. But she also points to what God, in his love and compassion, has done for us.

Through the sin and the gloom a light shines - the light of Jesus, who came to give us "life in all its fullness" - and the Church points to that light. The very ashes placed on our foreheads, a symbol of the dissolution and decay of our material bodies, are, in the Anglican tradition, imposed in the form of the life-giving Cross where life conquered death and love conquered hatred.

There IS a way out of the shadows - the way of the Cross and Resurrection, to which we journey during Lent, the "healing time" par excellence of the Christian year.

So, dust and ashes we are . . . but not merely dust and ashes! In Jesus we partake in that new creation into which we are being transformed.

Click HERE to read my LENT MESSAGE for 2010


Post a Comment