Ash Wednesday 2011, 6:30pm service
A Time to Weep
Tonight we gather as people intent on observing Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our Lenten journey together. We all have shown up tonight, taking the first steps toward Jerusalem, toward expected grief and toward the story that we all know so well. Lent is a time to turn inward even as we all practice this holy discipline together.
The season of Lent offers us s a time to weep. We’ve gathered here tonight in this church, in this sanctuary, a place that offers us some semblance of safety and sacredness. This place is one where we come with our greatest joys and deepest grief. I wonder if we can transfer that feeling of safety and sacredness- the way we feel about this physical space to the season of Lent.
Lent offers us an uninterrupted time to weep. Together, we have been handed the gift of 40 days of introspection and safe space. Lent can become our sanctuary- the place we turn to for healing, for safety and for the sacred. God is present in these moments with us.
In an article yesterday, David Lose wrote:
Maybe Lent really isn’t mine to do with whatever I please. Perhaps Lent isn’t even the Church’s to insist upon or discard at will. Maybe Lent isn’t any of ours to scoff at or observe. Maybe Lent is God’s. Maybe Lent is God’s gift to a people starved for meaning, for courage, for comfort, for life.
If it is, if we can imagine that Lent is not ours at all but is wholly God’s, then maybe we’ll also begin to recall, at first vaguely but then more strongly, that we, too, are not ours at all, but are wholly God’s — God’s own possession and treasure.
Seen this way, Lent reminds us of whose we are.
The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 51 of his great personal grief. He looks inward and weeps in great pain as he revisits his poor choices, the ways he has sinned against God, hurting both himself and others. Lent is characterized by this inward turn, a time of self-examination and reflection.
It is a time to weep over the places that are raw with fresh wounds and need the tears of grief to wash over them like a soothing balm. And then there are times to weep over the dry, barren wastelands in our lives. Places that are dried up, places where life barely exists. Perhaps in those places too, our tears might offer water to a broken, desolate area, which is in desperate need of attention.
A time to weep might also mean that instead of or in addition to, we turn outward toward a broken and hurting world. Any of us in this moment could list off the pains of the world: poverty, disease, sexual abuse, homelessness, war, pain greater than any of us alone can handle. But together, during times of great introspection, perhaps our Creator God can make new space in our hearts.
The places we weep for might be transformed to space for justice and the outcrying of God’s very heart. Our great grief for this world might meet God’s great grief and together we might be called to action. Some of our grieving is done on behalf of others. When we are grieving for or with someone, quite often we are taking on someone else’s suffering.
We are grieving their dreams, we are grieving what could have been for them and who they could have been. We are grieving for their families and friends. We grieve and we weep. We weep and we cry out a little bit for the moments of redemption that we believe must be out there.
Lent first began as it was the known as the time of the “lengthening of days.” You and I will all set our clocks forward an hour this weekend. As we do this, we usher in another hour of daylight.
The sunlight will soon sneak through our windows earlier and our sleepy, grief-filled eyes will awaken to a bit more light each day as we inch toward Easter. But we must linger in the darkness before we can know the light. We must weep in the darkness of the night before the joy of the morning comes. Lent is an opportunity to strain toward introspection and lean into the lengthening of days. Introspection occurs day by day as we examine our lives, our relationships and our prayers. As we inch closer to Easter, we lean into the longer days, a bit more daylight streaming into our darkened lives.
These days of Lent, may we embrace our grief and let our tears flow. In our weeping, Jesus will be there with us, turning his face and ours toward Jerusalem.
At this time, we through ritual adorn our faces with ashes. We do this as a sign that we are mortals, struggling with life. We do so recognizing that our tears are often stained with the grief of so much pain.
As you come forward, the pastors will be here at the front to impose the ashes either on your forehead or your hand and share these words with you:
Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return…but the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.