I do want to invite you to the observance of a Holy Lent starting on Ash Wednesday, February 17 and continuing through at least 3 pm Good Friday, the hour at which our Lord said, “It is finished.” Though in-person Ash Wednesday services will not be offered, a recorded service will be posted and Lent in a Bag will be delivered to your home! (If you do not receive a bag and want one please contact email@example.com)
Just a word about the imposition of ashes. In the Episcopal Church, ashes weren’t part of Ash Wednesday before the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Our current Ash Wednesday service makes it clear people aren’t expected to receive ashes, they are strictly optional, and there is no requirement for a clergy person to impose them.
The critical thing on Ash Wednesday, and every day, is remembering our mortality. This is at the heart of our Baptismal faith. Everyone who is Baptized is Baptized into the death of Christ, that is the death of sin and the body. The ashes serve as a reminder of the purpose of our Baptismal death, which is to transfer us into the eternal life of the risen Christ.
If you choose to make the sign of ashes as a sign of your death, Lent in a Bag will provide a palm which you can burn along with any palms you might already have. Use the residual ash to make a smudge on your own forehead, or your spouse’s or child’s forehead, as you repeat the phrase, Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. I always find this to be a very humbling, reverent, and compassionate thing to say and do. I hope you will also.
This remembering of our mortality and penitence is for the sake of renewing the life of Christ bestowed upon you in Baptism. The life of Christ is always focused on the work of reconciliation, healing, liberation, justice, and peace. Fasting is a key component to Christian life, and every well lived life. No one can consume indiscriminately and achieve their goals. Fasting is not however only about what we eat. Christian fasting is abstaining from participation in oppression, injustice, and exploitation. Our food system are unjust. Otherwise, everyone would be getting a fair share of the earth’s produce. And that is something we can help change. Over 2600 years ago the prophet Isaiah gave us a charge for fasting that is much wiser and broader than abstaining from food:
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?
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
With this, friends, it is my humble responsibility and joy to invite you, in the name of the Church, to join with me in the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.
May almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant you true repentance and the Holy spirit, that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy, so that at the last we may come to his eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.