Ash Wednesday: Entering the Desert–A Time to Reset
Readings: Psalm 95 ◊ Genesis 3:19 ◊ Deuteronomy 5:1—8:20 ◊ Mark 1:15
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Today marks the beginning of the Lenten Season, Ash Wednesday, an acknowledgement of our individual and collective brokenness—a time to realize and to confess how far we have veered from the radiant image of the God who created us.
While Lent is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, there are multiple illustrations and seasons where the call to repentance, both individual and corporate, went out to people. The actual practice of Lent has origins dating back as early as 200AD with mentions of corporate fasting by the church father St. Irenaeus. The Fast of Lent was later formalized between the years of 313 – 325 in the disciplinary canons of the Nicean Council. This call beckoned people to turn from their selfish desires and return to the path of righteousness, which is God. Lent is about turning…repentance, and transformation. I like that Lent can serve as a reset point for me. I also like that I am not alone, and this on several levels. As corporate observance, I know the Church universal (at least many, though not all) will be observing this season and I find support in the fact that I am not alone in this period of reset, turning, and transformation. I also find support in knowing that during this season of Lent, these 40-days, I enter into the desert wilderness of my soul following Jesus and the example he left us in the gospels when he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested and tempted by Satan.
Lent is traditionally the season of focused, concentrated transformation of self, from old man to new. Lent is the time when new patterns of living are forged to last a year and when new attitudes of heart are developed… I have been made brand new in Christ, but there is lots of change to make. 40 days of transformation. Neil Robbie
I enter into the wilderness with Jesus…facing my weaknesses, to learn what He learned and to be taught by the same Spirit that taught Him. I like how Emilie Griffith points out that Lent is “a time when we deepen our faith in a journey not of grand gestures but of small surrenders.” These small surrenders are the baby steps that lead to total surrender and whole-life transformation into the image and reflection of Christ Jesus. Henri Nouwen says these little surrenders are choices we make along our way. He writes; “The choice for your way has to be made every moment of our life.” I am learning there are no times or places where there are not choices… everyday is full of choices always before me to choose my way or the way of Jesus. Lord, I pray, help me always to choose you.
Take care you do not forget the LORD… (Deut. 6:12)
My Bible reading this morning reminded me of the dilemma faced by us all. It can be so easy to have our eyes and hearts distracted from the Way of our Lord. The world we live in is noisy and paced it seems at light speed. Survival takes effort and energy…hazards of all types exist around every corner and in every shadow. We get tired, sick, disheartened…distracted. We look for escape and begin to daydream about anything and everything except the present moment. Many people begin the path of self-medication, fulfilling those daydream fantasies, choosing alcohol, prescription drugs, and a myriad of other escape vehicles. All of this makes it easy to be distracted from the focus on our God even to the point that we forget the LORD.
I think this can be the case even for many of us who remain in groups that attend church services, even those of us who “do stuff” that Christians do like serving other people and reading our Bibles or other devotional material. We still “forget the LORD.” We can end up going through the motions, dried up, burnt out, worn to just a shell of a person from the hectic, noisy, distracted lives we lead. This is why Lent and participation in these 40-days is good for us. We are provided an earnest time of focus and dedication to our Lord… returning to the roots of our faith, if you will.
We are not converted only once in our lives but many times, and this endless series of large and small conversion, inner revolutions, leads to our transformation in Christ. –Thomas Merton
Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19)
“The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
And so, we enter the desert, to a time of fasting, repentance, and remembrance of our frailty. We answer the call of our Lord to be converted and be reconciled. We turn to Him with hopeful anticipation of the work He will wrought in us as we surrender ourselves to His molding and shaping. Make me, O Lord, like unto You. Have Your way in me…always today and forever. Amen