We are at the beginning of Lent – that annual opportunity to celebrate the heart of our Christian faith. For Christianity is always about beginning again. Our faith encourages us to believe in the possibility of the second chance; of a new start right now. No matter how many times we have gone wrong in the past or will go wrong in the future; no matter how old or how young we are, the Christian gospel is always encouraging us to trust that we can begin again.
So in these forty days we are encouraged to keep the fast in three ways– by abstaining , whether from food, drink, Facebook, TV, excessive work or whatever our soul most needs; by engaging more deeply in prayer, whether at home, or in a study group, or by journallng or walking or whatever most noursihes in us the longing for God; and by committing to the giving of alms – some charitable giving beyond our usual commitments. These three things, fasting, prayer and almsgiving form the heart of this time, and are the means by which we prepare ourselves for the great festival of Easter.
We begin all these things this week...
‘Shelter and energy come alive when a beginning is embraced. Goethe says that once the commitment is made, destiny conspires with us to support and realize it. We are never as alone in our beginnings as it might seem at the time. A beginning is ultimately an invitation to open towards the gifts and growth that are stored up for us. To refuse to begin can be an act of great self-neglect.’
So let’s begin.
Which brings me to the challenge of burning. Those who came to the service on Ash Wednesday received the sign of ashes on their forehead – a sign of repentance, and a joyous, while sober, reminder of our fragility and mortality. For when we once understand that we are only brief visitors in this world, and that our whole purpose is to co-operate with God in God’s purposes, we find we can relax.
In order to make the ash for Ash Wednesday, we burn the palm crosses from the previous year. This is an important reminder that the faith we had last year does not endure. What matters is who we are with Christ today. Our Lenten observances all serve to re-kindle the flame of our faith and love for God.
Which is why Lent is such a blessing. When the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness for forty days, I am not sure even He would have immediately perceived it as blessing. I don’t mean the hunger, or the wild beasts, or the danger – harsh though those realities must have been. I mean the inner struggle for truth and integrity of those days. To come before God and seek God’s will in our lives and communities is never going to be easy. There is always struggle when faith is real. Yet there can be no other way and the outcome is always blessing – the angels wait on us too.
And why do they wait on us? Because in the end of the day, no matter our striving, we are beloved of God, and like Jesus our walk in the wilderness brings us to the God who calls us onward in love, to find in all our new beginnings, shelter and peace at the last. Amen.