By now you are aware that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's Day. Many are trying to wrap their heads around how to reconcile these two seemingly unrelated remembrances.
In her monthly column for Living Lutheran, our Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, likened Ash Wednesday to a Valentine from God. (Read the column [here]).
The two are not all that unlikely. It is because of God's love for us that Jesus was sacrificed on the cross. Jesus said in the Gospel according to John: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." [John 15:13]
Though Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality, we are also made very aware that we have eternal life through the one who gave his life for us.
The readings are the same every Ash Wednesday, and I am always drawn to Paul's second letter to the Corinthians for a number of reasons.
Paul points out that not much is ever gained that doesn't come without some cost or sacrifice. Paul's sense of urgency ("NOW is the acceptable time") insists that we not put off repairing broken relationships or other things in our lives that need mending.
So our challenge in Lent is to prepare our hearts to welcome God's reconciling power into our lives. We are called to be a reflection of God's radical love in Christ Jesus so the good news of forgiveness in Christ takes root within us, and we can effectively communicate it to others.
Now is the acceptable time.
Every first Sunday in Lent we hear a version of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Of the three versions of this story, Mark gives us the fewest details. In fact, he gives us all of two sentences.
The brevity accentuates the abrupt shift from Jesus' baptism to his temptation.
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (Italics are mine.)
When I was in parish ministry I invariably encountered parents who brought their children for baptism thinking that once their child was baptized, everything was going to be easy. Many who come to the Christians faith as adults think that once they come to faith in Christ all will be well. God tells us through this temptation story that quite the opposite is true. Our journey of faith more often than not leads us down a path of struggle.
But the good news is that we are not alone in that struggle. A few words in our reading give us a hopeful hint. Mark tells us, "the angels waited on him." [v. 13]
Jesus's 40-days in the wilderness parallels the Israelites' 40-years in the wilderness. God provided a pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night to guide the Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt. And God sent angels to wait on Jesus during his 40 days in the wilderness.
No matter how difficult our challenge, God always accompanies us. And for that we say, "Thanks be to God."
Once again this year, we will celebrate an Ash Wednesday Eucharist with the imposition of ashes, at the Lutheran Center (Synod Offices), 1890 Bailey Road, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, beginning at noon. If you are in the area, or are looking for a place to worship, we invite you to join us.
Also again this year, we have published our annual
Lenten Prayer List for 2018
, listing all rostered ministers and congregations. I encourage you to make prayer for pastors, deacons and congregations a part of your Lenten discipline.
Throughout the season of Lent at the Lutheran Center during Lent, we gather daily promptly at noon in the chapel for a brief period of prayer. The time will include a hymn, a reading from Scripture, a brief reflection, as well as intentions (or petitions) for specific persons and congregations taken from the prayer calendar. You are also invited to join us for that brief interlude, which takes no more than fifteen minutes.
This week, as we prepare to journey to the cross, may the Holy Spirit open your hearts, that you will go forward in faith, trusting in the promise of a new life in Christ.
+Bishop Abraham Allende