Today on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, we hear these words:
“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to 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. And, to make a right beginning
of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now
kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.”—THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER
These words from The Book of Common Prayer begin to answer the question of why we have the season of Lent. It is a gift the Church has given us. It gives us a time to take inventory of ourselves—to look at the things done and left undone in our lives. It gives us time to look at our relationships—with God, ourselves and others. St. Benedict, in the Rule for his monasteries, would like his monks to make a little Lent each day, but he knows that most of us can’t and won’t take the time for this. Lent is a time to make space in our life for God and it calls us to certain practices that help us do this.
Today, ashes are imposed on our foreheads with the following words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
We remember that we are created by God to live in a relationship of Love with him and with others. Dust doesn’t mean that we are worms, of little or no account, crawling around in the dirt. Dust is a creation of God and it helps us know who we are. God has known forever. Isaiah says, “Before I was born the Lord called me.”—Isaiah 49:1. The psalmist acknowledges this as he says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”—Psalm 139:13.
We remember that God passionately desires to have this relationship with us. He remembers us. He says in Isaiah, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;”—Isaiah 49:15-16. God loves us. He misses us.
We remember that we often fall short of living in this relationship in our daily lives and we need help. Lent brings us to this, and so we pray, “Forgive us, Lord, when we forget these things and start believing we are the creator and can do our own thing. We are sorry. Restore us again, Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Amen.”
I pray that your Lenten practices will help you remember and come closer, once again, to the One who loves you most and to the ones with whom you travel this journey. Mine, too.