Ash Wednesday 1 March 2017 It’s true, we cannot reach Christ's fortieth day; Yet to go part of that religious way, Is better than to rest: We cannot reach our Savior's purity; Yet are bid, Be holy ev'n as he. In both let 's do our best.
This is a wonderful poem by George Herbert, the 17th century pastor, mystic, and poet. I just came across the poem and thought that it captured for me the essence of Lent. The word itself means spring, or the time of the lengthening of days. I think that picture is a wonderful way to look deep into lent. Spring is our season of awakening, when for those of us in the northern hemisphere, we start to see all the promise of new life. I see the buds on the trees are starting to swell; waiting for just the right moment to burst open. Robins are gathering in groups, perhaps talking in their own language about the excitement of nesting and bringing forth new life. Just yesterday I saw a bald eagle sitting on her nest, perhaps watching over the eggs that hold her young. Even the ground is starting to hint of green. So how do we go part of that religious way in the next 40 days? Last night I heard Bishop Scarfe talking about walking with God more closely, a time to think of our own relation to the holy mystery that we call God. In the second creation story God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, in the cool of the evening. I think we all long for that intimacy. I will not presume to tell you how you can find that; for each person there is a different way. I suggest, though, that Lent should not be about denial for its own sake, as though it were a rule. That is akin to legalism. Follow rules because they are rules. If you decide to NOT do something or eat something during Lent, ask first how it will help you grow closer to God. If you take on something, ask the same question. Ask how God can transform you. The readings for today beg us to come nearer to God and to do so not only in our personal life, but in our communal life. Look outside yourself as well as inside. Tonight we impose ashes, not as a mark of our sins but as a mark of our humanness, our mortality. We are asked to make the best we can of the life we have, to go, as the poem says, part of that religious way and to by holy people, as Christ was holy.