There have been years when Ash Wednesday was earlier. We can remember years when we didn’t even have to turn the calendar to March before we brought out the purple and black and got more familiar than we cared to with confession.
Confession – it’s good for the soul, they say. It is not, however, a whole lot of fun.
Regardless of whether we are ready or not, Ash Wednesday is here. And so today we will head to church or to Starbucks to receive the mark of the cross. There will be those who understand and nod, there will be those who are confused and look away, and there will be those who don’t know what to do with people walking around with crosses of ash and oil marking their foreheads.
We might want to tell them that today is a day when we remember our mortality, the truth of the word of Scripture that we try to put away, or at least put off as long as we can: The wages of sin are death.
From dust you have come and to dust you shall return.
We might also want to tell them that’s not the only thing we remember today. We remember, after all, that these forty days of Lent connect us to Jesus’ own preparation – his forty days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness.
That in the wilderness, that place where life is hard to see, that dark and empty landscape where it is easy to convince yourself that you are alone and that no one cares for you, Jesus experiences the truth he needs to resist the schemes of the devil and to set out on what he has to do for you and for me.
That even when we aren’t sure when or where or how, God provides.
Lent, with it’s fasting and giving up of the things we have convinced ourselves we need, reminds us of all the ways the source of our life is God.
As we experience the hunger that comes from skipping a meal, the emptiness reminds us of all the ways God is filling us up.
As we miss the connection to our screens during a technology break, the longing reminds us of all the ways it is our connection with God that sustains us.
As we dwell on what we can’t buy when we have chosen to give sacrificially, our solidarity with those in need reminds us of God’s generosity in giving to us.
Repent and believe the Gospel.
At its best, Lent isn’t a six week experience in self-loathing. Instead, it is an opportunity to pay attention to the cracks and to watch what happens when we let in the light of God’s grace. It’s not about making ourselves feel bad or thinking that somehow we can do something to make us more right with God. This season, instead, is about watching and paying attention, being reminded of the places we most desperately need God’s grace, and then taking on a practice or discipline that can help us reconnect with the God who still comes to us and for us.
Often Christians have either given something up for Lent or taken something on. Giving something up can produce gratitude and appreciation for our utter dependence on God. Taking something on can help us become intentional about reconnecting with the Source of our life and hope. However you fast or whatever practice you take on this year, my prayer is that this will be for you a Holy Lent in which you come to know and appreciate how much and how deeply you are loved.
Five Ideas For A Holy Lent:
If you aren’t sure how God is inviting you to be intentional during Lent, here are five ideas for how you can commit to remembering God’s presence and provision in your life.
1. Put Your Phone Down. Commit to one hour each day when you aren’t tied to your phone. Celebrate the gifts of being more present with those you love. If you want to get really crazy, put your phone away for an entire morning or afternoon. It’s a great way to remember that God is God – and that the world will still turn even if you aren’t plugged in.
2. Read the Psalms – Every Single One of Them. The Psalms are one of the best ways we have to learn how to pray. They remind us that we pray not just with our minds, but with our hearts and our bodies. They also teach us how to give thanks for the way God provides. Save Psalm 22 for Good Friday.
3. Commit To A Cause. During Lent we remember God’s sacrifice for us. Commit to sacrificially giving to a local charity or cause that makes a difference in the life of the poor here in Atlanta. (You can join us as we raise funds for our local mission partners through the Lenten Offering here at Peachtree Road.)
4. Pray Through Your Day. The Examen is a way of praying that invites us to take stock of our day and give thanks for all the ways we noticed God’s presence. You can do this as an individual or as a family. The Family Examen is a great tool to encourage your family to share the events of their days together at the dinner table or before bed. Individual Examen Prayer. A Family Examen.
5. Join With Others. At Peachtree Road we have several classes and Bible studies available during Lent. Sign up for one of these classes and commit to growing in your faith with others during this season. (You can sign up here.)
Rev. Daniel Ogle