Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

 Today is Ash Wednesday. We had a wonderful service at St. Andrew's sitting around four huge tables pushed together and passing the bread and wine to each other. Today I'd thought I'd post two things--a message I sent to the members of the three Cluster churches I serve and (because the weather postponed church Sunday (the Last Sunday of Epiphany) I'm attaching a 14 year old sermon for that Sunday that I like...."Happy Ash Wednesday...."

A Modest Proposal: a 'kinder, gentler' Lent

Years ago, at a St. John's, Waterbury staff meeting prior to Lent, I suggested that we might consider “a kinder, gentler Lent”.

The two other clergy people were horrified at the suggestion. The six lay members of the staff thought it was a good idea. Ponder that.

I am not someone who responses well to 'guilt'. I don't feel guilty about much of anything. I certainly don't need to grovel in my unrighteousness. When I do something that hurts someone else, I genuinely try to apologize and ask forgiveness and am humbled when I am forgiven. But I don't dwell on the bad stuff I do. I try to clean it up and move on. I don't dwell on the negative stuff of life.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. Which always makes me think of the children's nursery rhyme:

Ring-around the rosie,
Pocket full of Posies,
Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down.

Do you realize that harmless little rhyme, that can be danced to with the kids falling down at the end and laughing, is about the Black Plague? Apparently one of the first signs of plague was a circular rose-colored irritation on the skin. The pockets of the clothing of plague victims were filled with flowers to try to overcome the stench. Finally, the undeniable truth that we are, after all, dust and ashes and we will die, we will die.

That's half of Ash Wednesday's wisdom, We will die, we will die. We are, after all, dust and ashes and we will, each of us, all of us, return to that state. I sometimes tremble when I administer the ashes on that day. “Remember, my friend, you are dust and to dust you will return....” What solemn, sober and grave words. And true, true ultimately.

But that is only half of Ash Wednesday's wisdom. The other half comes when we are called to the Table to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. We are called to the Table to remember, also, that we are the shining children of God, just a little lower than the angels, created in the “image and likeness” of God.

I have a big old raincoat. Ash Wednesday reminds me of that coat. My coat has two deep pockets. On Ash Wednesday, one is filled with ashes, dust, humus, dirt—that is part of who I am, who you are.
And the other pocket is filled with moon light and star-dust and wonder and magic and the fact that I am, you are, shining children of God, just a little lower than the angels, the very 'visage' of God, 'image and likeness'.

That's what makes me want to have a 'kinder, gentler' Lent. That's who we are too, not just dust and ashes and guilt and sinfulness—the very Children of God, loved to death by God, loved to life by God. Loved and Loved and Loved again....

Join your congregational family on Ash Wednesday to be reminded to remember 'who we are'--dust and ashes surely, not doubt about it...but glittering, shining, wondrous, much loved creatures as well...invited to the Supper of the Lamb, a special spot reserved at the Table, the best spot of all, blindingly loved and honored and accepted and included.

Let's remember that part during Lent instead of beating ourselves up. Let's remember how loved and cared for we are. Let's remember God is the One who loves us best of all, just as we are, just as we were created.

That's what I want to be reminded of this Lent—how much God loves each of us and all of us.

Join me in pondering that Love, that Love, that wondrous, incomprehensible Love.....

Happy Lent! (Is that a crazy thing to say....probably...but I say it none-the-less....)

Shalom, jim

Packing for the journey 1/25/01 (St. John's, Waterbury)

The hardest part of any journey is NOT “the beginning” or “the middle” or “the end.”
The hardest part of any journey is BEFORE “the beginning”. Somebody has to pack the bags….

We are at that awkward “Before the beginning” part of the long journey of Lent. This Sunday is the Last Sunday After the Epiphany. On Shrove Tuesday we’ll have a farewell dinner and on Ash Wednesday we’ll set off on our journey. Today is the hardest part. Today we have to pack the bags….

The Gospel reading for this last Sunday before Lent is always the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. The Transfiguration event takes place on a mountain top, far above the concerns and needs in the valley below. Jesus is joined miraculously by Moses and Elijah who represent “the Law and the Prophets”—the gathering of the core of Judaism.
And what are they talking about—Moses and Elijah and Jesus? Luke tells us they “were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Jesus is on the mountain-top “before the beginning” of his journey to Jerusalem and the Cross.
Moses and Elijah are helping Jesus pack his bags….
The disciples are not ready to go to Jerusalem. They are full on anxiety about what lies ahead. Jesus has been hinting that betrayal and suffering await him in Jerusalem. The disciples don’t want to go.
Peter didn’t understand. A cloud overshadows the disciples, some of the fog that occasions mountain-tops, and they are terrified. Their fear was well-founded. Before the journey’s end they would face many dangers. No wonder they wanted to stay put on the mountain.
But Jesus is ready. His bags are packed and he’s ready to go.

Today we are baptizing three children. Jacob, Austin and Tiffany are setting out on the journey of life. And before they depart, we will help them pack their bags. Through water and oil we will proclaim they are loved by God and “marked as Christ’s own forever.”
That will go with them through the years and decades ahead. Whatever dragons they must pass, whatever dangers they may encounter, whatever fears may grip them…they will not travel alone. God goes with them.
Even when they feel they are by themselves, God goes with them.
Even when those who love them cannot protect them, God goes with them.
Even when they experience life as a desert, filled with wild beasts, God goes with them.
Today we will pack their bags full of the love of God and the grace of Christ. They’re almost ready to go.

As Jacob and Austin and Tiffany depart, so must we. We will gather around the Table on the Mountain Top and take be refreshed by the Life of God. But we cannot stay here. The world waits for us outside those doors. It is a sometimes frightening, confusing, lonely world. But it is the world God loves, and we do not journey alone.
The Wilderness of Lent awaits our footfalls. We must pack our bags with Love and face the wild beasts there. It is almost time. Soon we must depart.
But before then, some bread and some wine to remind us we are never alone…some water and some oil to remind us we are “marked as Christ’s own forever.”
This is the “getting ready time”. This is the time before the Beginning. This is the “bag packing” time. Then we’ll be ready for where the road may lead us and what the journey will hold.
When it’s time to go, we’ll be ready….Amen.

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.